Sleigh Bells Warehouse Live April 18, 2012
Sleigh Bells has to be one of the most polarizing bands in recent memory.
To really get a bead on a band these days, you have to go to iTunes. So I looked up Sleigh Bells. "How did this get made?" wondered one reviewer about Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller's 2010 debut LP, Treats. "If the Terminator had a playlist it worked out to, this is it," offered another.
So somewhere between "Just Awful," "Raw Power" and the usual gripes about the new album, Treats, not being as good falls Sleigh Bells. And from what I saw Wednesday at Warehouse Live, that's about right on the money.
Before Wednesday, I had managed to remain blissfully unaware of the Brooklyn duo until seeing them on Saturday Night Live in February. They did not change my life, but I think I can understand the appeal.
For one thing, it was a reminder that if someone has enough charisma, they will be a star no matter how off-putting the music may be. Alexis Krauss is a born performer from the word go, part cheerleader, part old-school emcee and part headbanging metal chick. Every American man in his twenties must be smitten.
Even if you had to stick your fingers in your ears -- I thought the Jesus & Mary Chain last month was loud until Wednesday -- it was impossible to take your eyes off her.
She started with a hypnotic hip-hop flow on Reign of Terror's "Demons," whipped her hair like Beavis and Butt-Head whenever the mood struck her, and several times led a room full of very, very eager fans in some rigorous hand-clapping exercises.
Meanwhile, Derek Miller and touring guitarist Jason Boyer did their best to call up the necessary metal mayhem to beat back the drum machine and ginormous squelchy electro keybaords. Ministry came to mind when they were thrashing away. Songs like "True Shred Guitar" and "Riot Rhythm" don't invite a lot of analysis beyond promising the visceral impact of their titles, but Sleigh Bells definitely delivered in that department. Happily, Miller and Boyer are doing everything they can to keep Jim Marshall's memory alive.
But neither was it 100 percent solid wall of noise. Besides the rapping and the screaming, Krauss has a lovely singing voice when you can hear it. (The sound Wednesday didn't do her any favors, yada yada yada.) It's melodious and cooing instrument, a little like Lush's Miki Berenyi, and adds a touch of sweetness to all the nastiness around her.
It's a shame it has to be covered up with all that noise, but I guess that's kind of the point.
Personal Bias: I don't know that I'd listen to Sleigh Bells every single day, but I'd definitely go see them live again. Especially at a festival.
The Crowd: The usual lineup of police records and Sunday School teachers. Krauss is well on her way to becoming an indie style icon like Karen O and M.I.A. before her.
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Overheard In the Crowd: Oddly, it was a little difficult to overhear anything at this one.
Random Notebook Dump: How did Free Press Summer Fest let these guys get away?