While generally blown-out bass notes are the fault of the sound engineer rather than the band performing, Brooklyn-based noise pop duo Sleigh Bells deserves some responsibility for its presence during the band’s Friday afternoon set at Outside Lands.
Lead singer Alexis Krauss was the centerpiece between two guitarists — often holding matching guitars, and with their own massive, matching Marshall amp stacks behind them. But oddly, given the band’s reliance on heavy bass and a machine-gun drumline, there was no drummer or bassist to be found onstage, the two critical parts instead left on the shoulders of a backing track.
Granted, some bands operate with a cohesiveness that would make extra touring members distracting (think Twenty One Pilots), but in this case, the pre-tracked parts were so vital to the mix that the lack of live musicians onstage to play them was jarring — and painful. A live drum set and bass would have been significantly easier to mix properly, hence the blown-out notes causing audible discomfort to those near the front of the pit. Not to mention the oddness of a live experience in which half the “music” isn’t even being played.
The predominance of the pre-recorded tracks was further amplified by the lack of differentiation between the two guitarists, who would often be seen playing the same riffs on opposite ends of the stage. Without any solos or distinctive phrasings to raise them from the bass/drum track underneath, the two simply faded into the noise.
Realistically, though, the guitarists (one of whom is a touring bandmate, oddly enough) were always going to take a backseat to the charisma exhibited by Krauss, for whom the guitarists often felt secondary, the way a DJ backs a rapper. Krauss danced the stage to its edges in sweeping runs, engaging with anyone in the crowd who would dance and sing along.
Several times, she jumped off the stage and onto the barrier, to the delight of her fans. This rambunctiousness eventually culminated in her crowd surfing around for awhile and bringing one lucky fan onstage to dance with her— a bold move for a band with a 5:15 p.m. showtime, and one that paid off. “Let’s pretend the fucking sun’s not out,” she yelled at one point. The crowd wholly heeded her request, dancing through the set as if it were being held in a tiny, sweaty punk club at midnight.