Walking into the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Monday night, one was immediately struck by the sight of four(!) Marshall stacks onstage. Clearly the highly anticipated concert by Sleigh Bells was going to be loud. And it was. A bit too loud, in my opinion, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining afterward. Of course, maybe I just couldn’t hear anything at all.
Sleigh Bells took the stage to a thrashy speed metal guitar intro, then (pre-recorded) tolling bells led into the sonic onslaught of “Tell ‘Em,” the lead track from the band’s debut (and only) album, Treats, which has received much buzz, from the blogosphere to the so-called mainstream media.
When I say band, I mean Derek Miller on heavily distorted guitar courtesy of the aforementioned Marshall amps, bundle-of-energy Alexis Krauss on chirpy vocals and chants, and the pre-programmed backing tracks consisting of in-the-red, highly compressed, overdriven beats, which in concert were often synched with flashing lights. It may seem like an odd mix on paper (or when you read it on your computer screen), but it really does work when you hear it.
Next up was “Infinity Guitars,” with more heavy beats and chanted lyrics about … well, I don’t know if it really matters. Sleigh Bells doesn’t seem overly concerned about lyrical depth. The next song, “A/B Machine,” just repeats the lyrics “Got my A machines on the table / Got my B machines in the drawer” over and over. It’s really all about the ginormous sound.
More songs followed with nary a pause, until they had played most of the tracks off Treats, plus the lesser-known B-side “Holly.” This included their catchiest song, “Rill Rill,” which loops a sample of “Can You Get to That” off Funkadelic’s mind-melting classic album Maggot Brain.
Missing in action (sorry, couldn’t resist — you may already know that Sleigh Bells are strongly affiliated with the artist M.I.A.) were the slightly more ambient tracks “Run the Heart” and “Rachel” from Treats.
With “Crown on the Ground,” the concert passed the 30-minute mark, and then it was over. This was a bit of a shock to the audience — myself included — which nevertheless applauded and whooped until Krauss returned to say, “I don’t mean to bum you out or anything, but how long’s our record? We don’t have any more songs.”
Since the backing tracks were all pre-programmed, there was no improv, no between-song banter and no slowing down. But while it lasted, it was definitely a wild — and very loud — ride.
Crown on the Ground
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.