Doing It Live: Sleigh Bells

22 Feb

Sleigh Bells at the Mayan Theater, February 21, 2012.

Brooklyn-based group Sleigh Bells released their sophomore album Reign of Terror on Tuesday, and played a sold-out show at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles to commemorate the occasion.  Although familiar with the band from their first album Treats, we hadn’t been to one of their shows before, and weren’t sure what to expect.  In this era of breathless blog hype surrounding ‘bands-of-the-moment,’ new artists can make a big splash on the merits of having a unique sound, without necessarily having the musical chops to sustain success after an initial breakthrough.  After their novelty has worn off, does a new group simply sound dated, or can they produce consistently great music?

Sleigh Bells is a great example of this question, as they have a distinct sound that felt refreshingly new when they hit the scene a couple of years ago.  Often referred to as “noise pop,” the majority of their songs have the sound pushed up to distortion levels and feature pounding drum machine loops with crunchy guitar riffs.  Fronted by the melodic voice of Alexis Krauss, the group’s first batch of songs were aggressive rockers that had a pop sensibility underlying them, and they were able to build up an ecletic fan base of indie scenesters and harder rock fans.  Will Sleigh Bells be able to keep building fans and rocking faces for the foreseeable future?  Live performances can often be a good indicator of whether or not a band is for real, so the show at the Mayan provided a chance to see what this band has to offer at a notable point in their early career.

The night got off to an uneven start, with a bit of a strange vibe in the air.  The Mayan is a pretty unique venue, as its jungle theme makes one feel as if you’ve stepped in to a drug-fueled lost episode of Legends Of The Hidden Temple.  It is cool in a very weird way, but the night’s opening act seemed to struggle with the theater’s acoustics and it wasn’t clear if Sleigh Bells would have the same issues.  Any doubts of that dissipated as soon as Krauss and guitarists Derek E. Miller and Jason Boyer took to the stage and seized control of it for the next hour.  The band started out with two new tracks that were delivered with enough energy to get the capacity crowd started, but it was when they broke into their first old song, “Riot Rhythm,” that the raw power of their live act fully appeared.

Krauss promptly ripped through a series of Treats songs, and had the crowd in her hands from then on.  Yowling and prowling the stage, she took the drum machines and deafening riffs to another level, displaying a focused showmanship and true rock god(dess) potential.  At some points she was alone on stage, backed only by the towering stacks of Marshall amps, but she refused to let that dampen the energy in any way.  The songs from the new album sagged a bit, but for familiar tunes like “A/B Machines” and “Straight A’s” the crowd upfront was going fucking bananas, with bras and shirts flying at the stage from all angles.  It was a testament to the magnetic power of Krauss’ performance that the group’s quietest song, “Rill Rill,” didn’t lower the energy level at all.

The full set for the band burned hot and fast, coming in at a little under an hour.  The short time left the audience wanting more, and seemed well-suited to Sleigh Bells’ propensity for hopping from one quick, loud burst of noise to the other.  There didn’t seem to be any disappointed faces in the crowd filing out, and the band’s live power would appear to bode well for their staying power as a unique new voice in the music world.  Their brand of music is heavily influenced by heavy metal and pounding hip-hop, and at points the show they put on last night rocked much harder then most “modern rock” bands ever will.  As long as Krauss is getting heads banging like Ozzy and pals used to, Sleigh Bells will be worth the price of admission – and then some.

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