Sleigh Bells Warehouse Live April 6, 2014
One might be forgiven for being a little surprised that Sleigh Bells are still selling tickets in 2014. The duo reached maximum buzz years ago, riding the hype all the way to a slate of plum festival gigs and late-night TV appearances. Like so many indie darlings before them, though, Sleigh Bells never quite seemed built to last. Really, how many ways could they twist heavy-metal riffs around electronic hip-hop beats without growing a little stale? Aren't we on to the next thing, yet?
Well, they might not be the hottest thing out of Brooklyn anymore, but Sleigh Bells has grown an audience the right way over the past few years: on the strength of their live show. The crowd that showed up at Warehouse Live Sunday night arrived didn't come to hear the hottest new buzz band; they came to see Sleigh Bells. And they fully expected the band to deliver.
Deliver they did. After three albums, the Sleigh Bells formula remains relatively simple, but massively effective. After an ear-splitting drumline intro, it was all strobe lights and cymbal crashes from there, with a huge cheer erupting at first sight of leather-clad front woman Alexis Krauss.
Every eyeball in the room, squinted as they were against the blinding stage lights, was on Krauss from the minute she arrived onstage 'til the moment she disappeared. Much ink has been spilled about the singer's rock-star magnetism, and it's all true. As she rapped and hollered over the headbanging hip-hop beats of "Minnie," Krauss strutted, bounced, slunk and slid between the group's twin Marshall towers, looking every inch the tattooed dream girl that Axl Rose always strove to be.
Most of the night's dynamics came courtesy of her vocals. While Sleigh Bells' guitars and beats are consistently cranked to 11, Krauss' voice wavered from iron-lunged roar to soft, girlish coo. On new songs like "You Don't Get Me Twice" and "Bitter Rivals," she deployed some elegantly tasteful Motown stylings that proved she could have held her own as part of the post-Winehouse wave of pop-R&B divas, had the opportunity arisen.
But at a Sleigh Bells show, it's the titanic crunch of distorted mayhem that puts asses in motion, not the slick groove of studio soul. Guitarist Derek Miller and touring axe-slinger Ryan Primack were locked in all night, thrashing away behind Krauss in the sweat-drenched fashion they perfected while playing together in Poison the Well 15 years ago. Sleigh Bells has brought a drummer out on tour with them for the first time on this trek, and the cymbal-bashing conducted by Chris Maggio only served to add to the bewildering bombast of the band's set.
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Houston crowds can often be reserved on Sunday nights, with the prospect of another Monday morning looming heavily over the proceedings. With Sleigh Bells' strobes and sequencers on full blast Monday night, though, there was little choice but to throw one's hands into the air and sag into the absurdly huge beats.
By the time a mini moshpit broke out towards the back during the aptly named "Infinity Guitars," it was obvious that Sleigh Bells is capable of consistently generating the kind of live energy upon which a long career can be built. There was clapping, there was crowd-surfing and there were shout-alongs.
It was the kind of spectacle worth missing Game of Thrones for. Sunday night was Sleigh Bells' third performance at Warehouse Live, and it feels certain they'll be back someday. Not bad for a buzz band that's outlived their 15 minutes of fame.
Personal Bias: Seeing Poison the Well destroy the tiny television studio at U of H in 2000 altered my life.
The Crowd: Young, white and ready to bang.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Jesus, that's bright!"
Random Notebook Dump: Due to other commitments, I didn't arrive in time to see the opener, A Sea Es. So let's just assume that they were fantastic!
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