When Alice Glass quit Crystal Castles last year, it was hard to imagine them without her. Remaining member Ethan Kath is determined to carry on without her, though, and has since replaced her with a new singer in Edith Frances.
Tonight (August 26), the duo played their first Reading Festival set since Alice’s departure and it was pretty tough going. Where once the band would have all but torn the roof off of the NME/Radio 1 Stage, today the atmosphere and excitement beneath the canvas was lacklustre at best. An impromptu mid-set rendition of “Whoomp! There It Is” from the crowd was about as boisterous as things got.
That wasn’t necessarily the band’s fault. It would be hard to fault Edith on her energy and performance, leaping from the stage and pulling all sorts of shapes that made her look like a rag doll with limbs flailing every which way for every song. But the audience didn’t seem to be having it – nearly every time the big screens showed the faces of those on the front row they looked either bored out of their minds or like they had no idea what was going on.
What was happening in front of them wasn’t bad by any means, it just didn’t really connect. Perhaps the new album material, like ‘Femen’ and ‘Fleece’, hasn’t had time to embed itself into fans’ hearts and minds yet, or people are going to take some time to warm to Crystal Castles’ latest addition. Compared to Alice, Edith is just as fine a performer. She also has the kind of weird, alien (but really fucking cool) look down to a tee and in front of people who really cared would probably go down brilliantly. She’s made the role her own and certainly doesn’t look out of place. The only thing she’s really lacking is the real sense of anger and slight danger that Alice possessed.
She (or Ethan, or both) may have made a gesture of respect to her predecessor during tonight’s set, too. On each track that came before her time with the band, like ‘Crimewave’ and Robert Smith collaboration ‘Not In Love’, her vocals sounded far too digitised to be her singing live. Whether they had extreme levels of effects and manipulation on or she was just lip syncing to a pre-recorded track it’s not clear, but, either way, it was a reminder of Alice’s contributions to the band and made the set feel even further from gigs during her reign.