The latest band to ride a wave of hype across the pond from America, Crystal Antlers are from the music production factory that is Long Beach, California. Heralded partly due to their relationship with Ikey Owens (Mars Volta, De Facto) – who produced their debut 'EP' – the group produce a mutant form of lo-fidelity psychedelic blues,creating a torrential sound which somehow never becomes oppressive. What's more, despite their relative youth, Crytal Antlers are already guaranteed at least a small place in indie rock history with their debut album, 'Tentacles', scheduled to be the final release for Touch and Go Records on April 7th 2009. The independent American record label is entering a hiatus as it seeks to restructure itself following the closure of its distribution arm, throwing question marks over distribution for a host of other labels including Kill Rock Stars, Jade Tree and Drag City.

Playing as a quintet – composed of Johnny Bell (bass, vocals), Andrew King (guitar, organ), Victor Rodriguz (organ), Kevin Stuart (drums) and Damian Edwards (percussion) – the group take to the modest stage of Madame Jojo's in London's Soho tonight buoyed by their rising star. Opener 'A Thousand Eyes' breezes by followed by a couple of selections from 'EP' without the crowd really being able to appreciate the depth or intensity of the assault. It is apparent that the group's eclectic – although heavily amalgamated by distortion – style can count against them as much as it can work for them. With some many competing influences ,seemingly from each member of the group, vying for space on stage and amid the sound, the overall impact is somewhat diluted.

Crystal Antlers are, however, at their best when King is allowed the freedom to shower the audience with sharp, undistorted riffs, almost in a classic rock sense. Here they are able to find focus and rally around a collection point. On these, all too brief, occasions the focused sound – such as on 'Vexation' and 'Arcturus' – is immediate and as brilliant as anything produced by noise-pioneers Acid Mothers Temple. Mostly, however, Crystal Antlers all pull in different directions. Rodriguez (sporting a Misfits t-shirt, perhaps out of loyalty rather than musical debut) is frequently drowned out under the weight of his band mates pummelling, while multi-instrumentalist Edwards (although offering the inspired collection of bongo, cymbal and melodica) appears almost superfluous on stage.

The overriding impression, then, is a band with boundless energy and ideas, but lacking an ability to focus and present these in a manner immediately appropriate to a live audience. There is also a nagging sense the group is simply to polite to be the band they want to be. Before the opening number is even finished Stuart rips off his t-shirt, despite not emanating one bead of sweat, while the others swagger without conviction. A few more years and Crystal Antlers could be ready to compete with the best, but on this evidence – as the crowd chats amiably despite the onslaught – there is still some work to be done.












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