When describing music, we tend to rely on a stash of generic stock phrases. Beach House? Dream pop. MGMT? Psychedelic. Sleigh Bells? Hip hop…uh, I mean…low-fi — with a dash of punk and a hint of electronica thrown into the mix. The Brooklyn-based trio, fresh from the success of their debut album, continues its refusal of being constricted to hackneyed genres. Armed with a ridiculously large number of amps and seizure-inducing strobe lights, Sleigh Bells’ performance at the Rickshaw Stop last Wednesday can only be described as an overwhelming explosion of sight and sound.
Rickshaw Stop’s intimacy was both a challenge and a delight. Crowded in the tightly-packed venue, concert-goers struggled both to balance drinks and to allocate for breathing room. Yet, there was something enthralling about experiencing live music in such a tight space. Watching second-opener Neon Indian work the stage with their warped chords and pulsating beats only heightened the anticipation of what a unabashed group like Sleigh Bells would unleash.
As strains of Black Sabbath filled the air, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller strolled on stage. Miller plucked furiously away at his guitar while Krauss tossed her hair and waved her arms, conducting the audience through their sampling of “Iron Man.” It was a strangely peaceful moment, marked by the scatterings of flashing lights that matched the slow and steady beats. But once the strident notes of “Crown on the Ground” kicked in, all hell broke loose.
Krauss, clad in metallic leggings and a Sleigh Bells jersey, happily broke the invisible barrier between the performer and the audience. Head banging and hips swaying, she rushed from one stage from the other. A high five here, a crowd surf there — the frenzied vocalist was all for personal interactions, much to the delight of her fans.
Her magnetic onstage personality perfectly complimented Sleigh Bell’s thrashing sound. If the deafening beats and heavy riffs of their studio efforts threatened to explode your speakers, then they would be no match for the volume of a live Sleigh Bells rendition. Rhythm was the primary focus of the show, whether it stemmed from the hip hop vibe of “Infinity Guitars” or the charming syncopation of “Kids.” The amps and drums galore managed to turn Sleigh Bells’ gritty cacophony into a clean mix of crisp poundings and tight synths.
It just goes to show the power of Krauss’ vocal capabilities (or perhaps it was one hell of a microphone) in that her voice rang distinct and clear amidst all the distorted noise. The dichotomy of her singing extended to her onstage demeanor. One moment, Krauss would be sweetly belting out the emotional intensity of “Rachel” and the next, maniacally jumping around while screeching in “Straight A’s.”
But nothing good can last and after a short and spastic set, Sleigh Bells said their thank-yous and vanished from sight. A half-hour performance may sound unusual but the band is surprisingly young, with only one LP released. You never would have guessed their freshness, however, in light of the tightly-packed group of devoted fans and Sleigh Bells’ exuding confidence. Their frantic exuberance, coupled with blinding light displays and deafening sounds, only confirmed what fans already knew — Sleigh Bells will continue to delight both the ears and eyes for years to come.
Cynthia Kang is the arts editor.