May 13, 2005

Addicts take note: This Crystal may be good for you

The Crystal Method, one of the best-known American electronic music groups, came through Chicago last Friday on their U.S. tour supporting their latest DJ album, Community Service II. The show was held at the Metro. Due to a sold-out and highly anticipated Coldplay concert only a few hours earlier at 7 p.m., the doors didn't open until midnight, an hour late. The late opening meant that many fans spent up to two hours waiting outside in a line that wrapped almost completely around the bar next to the Metro. Luckily, it was a nice night, and the fans were in good spirits, many still sporting bracelets from the Coldplay concert. Once the doors opened, the line moved quite quickly (despite three ID checks within 15 feet, which has to be a record), and soon everyone was inside. An opening DJ spun an hour-long set of hard-hitting breaks. He quickly got the near-capacity crowd into the spirit of things, though I must admit I wasn't terribly impressed by his set.

Right at 1:00 a.m., the Crystal Method (Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland) took over the turntables. After apologizing for the late start, they launched into their set, starting off with several dark and brooding tracks. While they didn't play all the tracks on Community Service II, they did play some of the best-known ones, including their remixes of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle," and the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979." The "Roadhouse Blues" remix came right at the middle of the night and seemed to serve as the midpoint of the set, as it gradually transitioned from the quieter instrumental tracks of the beginning of the show to the loud rock remixes of the end, with "1979" as the second-to-last song. The crowd was energized during the entire set, dancing throughout and cheering as they recognized the tracks. These tracks were interspersed throughout the set, striking a good mix between diversity and pleasing the fans. That every track seemed "Crystal Method"-ish is a testament to the coherence of their set. The show was about as close as you could get to the signature sound of the group's albums.

Throughout the night, Jordan and Kirkland told the crowd how much they loved Chicago, and the audience's enthusiasm made it clear the feeling was mutual. A steady stream of CDs, LPS, and water bottles were handed up for autographs. Basically, either Jordan or Kirkland would be behind the turntables while the other would shake hands, give high-fives, and sign autographs, and every few tracks they would switch. A few times, they even tossed out water bottles to the crowd, which can be a gift from heaven for someone dancing for several hours straight. The intimacy of the Metro—combined with the Crystal Method's enthusiasm for the audience—made for a level of interaction that you often don't see with a DJ set.

On one hand, it seems strange to pay upwards of $60 per ticket (the price one person in line claimed to have paid) for a DJ set, given that at best you're going to be hearing the artist playing their own tracks, without any of the spontaneity of a live act. However, good DJs take the limitations of their form and wring it for all its worth, squeezing every possibility out of their turntables. Most importantly, they give their audience a good time, playing music that gets everyone dancing for the entire night.

With so many excited fans, it would be easy for the Crystal Method to just show up and go through the motions. However, this was far from the case. While not going crazy on the turntables, Jordan and Kirkland put in a competent and varied set. More than that, they connected with their audience, getting most people dancing for the whole night and cheering whenever a new song came in. The audience was slightly older than I expected, with most people between the ages of 25 and 35, with few people under 20 in sight. Perhaps because of this, the upper balcony was quiet, with people just standing around and watching the action below. It's hard to say at a glance, but the people on the balcony seemed slightly older than those on the dance floor. However, this division seemed to work out well, with those who wanted to dance having fun down on the floor while those who were just there to listen to the music conferred on the balcony.

All in all, this was a very good show, though the Metro management wasn't at the top of their game. Booking two internationally recognized acts on the same night (let alone with door openings only four hours apart) was a mistake. A turntable broke about 20 minutes into the Crystal Method's set and had to be removed (though maybe this isn't the responsibility of the Metro), bringing the music to a complete halt. The lighting for the first half of show was very good, but the second half was horrible. I don't know why they decided to suddenly stop using the rotating lights. In addition, at many points the stage was only lit by lights without color gels, which—aside from being boring— immediately disconcerted me by reminding me of house lights at the end of a show. Also memorable was the very unflattering combination of red and purple lights.

Despite the production problems, the show was very good. I highly recommend checking out the Crystal Method next time they're in town. I would recommend finding a friend with a car, because taking the Red Line back to Hyde Park at 4 a.m. from the Addison stop in Wrigleyville isn't most people's favorite activity. However, if that's what it takes to see them, do it. You won't regret it.