At: House of Blues, Saturday
In the current musical analogy, laptops are the new guitars, and electro is the new indie. For Crystal Castles, who performed at the House of Blues on Saturday night, it's also the new punk.
The brash Toronto duo punch a defiant fist straight through any meaningful genre boundaries whenever they take the stage – sometimes literally, as in one case of onstage fisticuffs last year. Controversies like that and others including feuds with tourmates, a generally surly and indifferent attitude toward the press, and the occasional canceled gig over sound complaints make it clear this isn't your mother's polite keyboard music.
At its harshest, you might not even call their throbbing synth pulses, chopped-up sample assault and glitchy video game soundtrack explosions music at all. That's the point precisely, and what made their performance on Saturday -- complete with seizure-inducing strobe lights, and the maniacal stage thrashing of wraith-waif vocalist Alice Glass, who roared like an adorable dinosaur hatchling on songs like "Doe Deer" -- so hypnotic to a sold-out all-ages crowd of futuristic ballerinas from space in warpaint makeup and their be-hoodied, but barely bewhiskered boyfriends.
When it was announced pre-set that Glass had broken her ankle, the moan from the crowd seemed to reveal a collective anticipation of some inevitably expected mishap. Her appearance soon thereafter complete with a boot cast and crutch was an impressive relief. On hits like "Crimewave" and "Celestica," Glass summoned all of her 100 odd pounds of furious inhumanity, dancing one-legged, not so much singing as blasting oxygen through a computer. Her wielding of the crutch in the glare of the strobes underscored her cyborg pixie affect. The aggression makes sense; the group's trek through the pixelated soundscape of barely-controlled computer chaos from their two self-titled albums is the contemporary analogue for fighting in a mosh pit, (although there was a regular old one of those as well).
Glass, in what was one of the most heroically punk performances in recent memory, hurtled herself into the crowd, broken ankle and all, and performed entire songs, like the abrasively bewitching “Alice Practice,” on the upraised hands of fans, sounding out the exhalations of a wounded animal robot amidst the entropy of a bouncily cascading synth line. Who needs guitars when you've got that?