Hailing from Long Beach, California and hitting UK shores for the first time in the wake of Touch & Go's CD reissue of their originally self-released 25-minute long 'EP', Crystal Antlers are definitely riding a still-growing wave of interest and anticipatory buzz. The basement venue at Nice N Sleazy is absolutely packed, from the front stage to the back doors, with barely room to move, let alone get down and dance or even nod along, not that plenty of people don't still try it once the band's infectious garage rock grooves kick into action.
With the sound gloriously in the red right from the very first notes, it's this psychedelic garage rock fuzz that rules the early part of the set, with Andrew King's guitar-playing going straight into frenetic Acid Mothers-esque aim-for-the-stars soloing, while front-man Jonny Bell blasts out over-driven heavy fuzz-bass riffing and suitably scorched vocals. Accompanied by Victor Rodriguez's vintage organ riffs and the percussion, melodica and dance skills of the wonderfully named Sexual Chocolate, a.k.a. Damien Edwards, who adds melodic flourishes and emphasis to the solid propulsive grooves laid down by main drummer Kevin Stewart, the five-piece Crystal Antlers generate a heady cosmic squall, whose closest touchstone is probably fellow Californian psychedelics Comets On Fire, or their more user-friendly offshoot Howlin' Rain.
At first the sound is too thick and over-driven and the weight of all this action is too heavy, making it difficult to hear the subtleties and complexities hidden away amidst the psychedelic garage-y fuzz, but a fortuitous bass string break forces a slight ease in the tempo and intensity, and we're treated to an interlude of spacey guitar and organ drone, before the band launches full-bore once again into a massive multi-part psychedelic garage prog jam, more intense than ever, but with the magnificent sonic collision of psych, garage, prog, blues and desert rock that they offer now coming through loud and perfectly unclear.
Even with barely half-an-hours recorded material behind them, the heaving crowd and accompanying adulation that Crystal Antlers generate is more than well-deserved on a night with a performance like this and, if they can live up to their early promise, then the forthcoming album, Tentacles, could be, along with tonight's live experience, one of the highlights of 2009.
Photos of this gig available here.