Retro Bar, Manchester Thursday, March 12
This is is our first European tour!” states a happy Jonny Bell, inside-out jumper-wearing frontman of Crystal Antlers. Two months of solid gigging on the continent has brought the California quintet to Manchester and, although it’s their first appearance here, the buzz about their live show is well travelled; feet are caressing tabletops trying to get a peek in. The Retro Bar itself is an oddity. Painted black with a mouldy scent, it’s situated just outside the Gay Village, directly below a Rovers Return-style working men’s pub, only with hotpots replaced by novelty condoms and pensioners with students. It’s fair, then, that a band whose percussionist goes by the bizarre nickname of Sexual Chocolate should make their northwest debut right here.
And what a debut. Crystal Antlers’ garage-fused, hallucinogenic punk melange is ridiculously exciting. They make noises a million miles away from the surf drool you’d expect of their Long Beach roots. Preaching an eclectic formula with such conviction, it’s like hearing The Magic Roundabout invaded by a mushroom-dosed Keith Morris. Still, whatever this madness is, we’re ready to believe in it.
‘Andrew’ is a radiant example of Bell’s screechy rock vocals, upon which Sexual Chocolate turns out to be part rhythm master, part legend – we’re talking pelvic thrusts worthy of a libido superhero. And as they finish with the psyched-to-the-eyeballs ‘Parting Song For The Torn Sky’ and begin to pack up, the audience don’t move. They’ve made a barrier around the cave-like stage and, as Bell looks on at the expectant crowd and asks, “Another song?” the answer is translated via the giddy screams of grown men. ‘Arcturus’ explodes, as does several people’s DNA which manages to land on NME’s face in the form of approximately three different saliva samples. It’s gross but also worth it, because Crystal Antlers are so alarmingly refreshing that for a split second, we think that the orange Tango twat has paid us a visit for extra clarity.