Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Local outfit Crystal Skulls haven’t played live since last summer – if I recall correctly, at Bumbershoot, or maybe one more show from that timeframe. Their brand of jangly rock, infused with an undeniable groove, hasn’t been matched by any band, and I’ve been missing their once-regular live shows immensely.

Amidst the Crystal Skulls’ hiatus were rumors of bandmates moving on—or worse: a breakup. The latter has proved untrue, though the lineup changes are significant: three-fourths of the original band are now out, with Yuuki Matthews, Ryan Phillips, and Casey Foubert all having been replaced on stage, leaving frontman/songwriter Christian Wargo at the helm. I figured this couldn’t be all bad news, because I’ve said for a long time that Wargo is one of the best songwriters our region has to offer — the melodies, the lyrics, the song structures are all top-notch and the result of someone who truly considers songwriting a craft. {As a side note, as I’m writing this, The Smiths’ “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” has popped up on the stereo, and this can’t be coincidence. I’d never previously considered it, but The Smiths and the Skulls have a lot in common—jangly guitars, an intrinsically groovy rhythm section, and swoon-worthy, 1950s-feeling vocal harmonies.} So I was pleased to hear that Wargo had corralled a new stable of musicians to carry forth his vision. But I was still nervous to see how the reunited Skulls would sound.

The Croc was packed for this opening set of a four-band bill, showing that clearly more than just my guy and I were anxious to hear the rekindled Skulls. Joining Wargo (who introduced himself as “Chris”) on this Saturday night were four members — including a keyboardist (new to the live setting), and a mustached dude in a tank top. The band debuted a near complete setlist’s worth of all-new material, save for “Move Me Alright” off the most recent release, Outgoing Behavior. The five-piece was tight, and I was shocked to hear that the second guitarist (tank top dude) had only first played with the Skulls on Monday of this same week. The guy must be a virtuoso, oozing leads out of his fingertips.

Overall, the new iteration of Crystal Skulls sounded a lot like the old, but with a little less edge and a bit more of a soft rock vibe. While the familiar Crystal Skulls energy infused the first two or three songs, the set took a strange turn and lost some energy with each subsequent number. They played one song that I could swear was a theme song to a 1970s spy show, and another that should be on a spaghetti western flick soundtrack if it isn’t already — odd, to say the least. But the bulk of the new material is nice, pleasant, and still danceable. It just may be a bit safe. I miss the muted edge that populated the debut, Blocked Numbers, and the live shows with the old lineup. In fact, I couldn’t help but think this new material sounds, dare I say, a bit too “easy listening” for my liking.

This isn’t terribly new territory for Crystal Skulls. They’ve always employed a touch of an easy swing (call it the “Yacht Rock” influence), meshed with a rock rhythm. From the sounds of this show, the Skulls seem to be heading in this tamer direction, though I’ll give them a few more live gigs to iron out the kinks and see what develops. I suspect a bit more edge will return, as that’s such a key part of the signature Crystal Skulls’ sound. Then again, considering the band is virtually all new, maybe we need to look at this as Crystal Skulls 2.0.