Review: Sleigh Bells at the Ogden, 04/13/12

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Ever heard of the loudness wars? Doesn't matter. War's over. Sleigh Bells wins. Decisively. Right now, there's a roomful of people banging their heads in unison, in the kind of scene that makes dollar signs appear in the eyes of chiropractors. It's so loud you're compelled to bang your head. Your only other choice is whether or not you want to pump your fist in the air at the same time. It's so loud, in fact, you can feel your nostrils vibrating from the bass. It's a sonic onslaught, a matter of sheer survival. A guy turns to his friend and says, "let me know if you see blood coming out of my ear." The statement is followed by a sublime smile most commonly seen in religious iconography.

The big, loud opening is almost too much. Krauss's vocals are practically inaudible behind the wall of guitar during "Demons." But once the mix has been remedied, all the hype about their live show begins to make sense. Krauss has the crowd eating out of her palm. She has great stage presence and makes a well-calculated turn as metal diva. Her presence is the perfect balance to the generally reserved (at least by comparison) demeanor of musical conspirator Derek Miller, who crafts the tracks upon which Krauss exerts her feminine wiles.

"Crown on the Ground" and "True Shred Guitar" keep the energy going strong. The problem is that the volume of their show seems like an attempt to mask the lack of chemistry the group has (even with the addition of second guitarist, Jason Boyer). At one point, both guitarists step off stage, leaving only Krauss and a backing track -- but there is no negligible change in the volume or the show. Most of the crowd didn't even notice. Each song is essentially the same as an album cut, but like fifty times louder, and with the added benefit of seeing Krauss bounce and bop around the stage.

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"I need you to scream for me," Krauss tells the crowd at one point. Everyone screams. "Is there room for me in the pit?" she asks the hardy individuals packed in front of the Ogden's stage. By now, we're nine songs in, and the crowd has their hands raised, ready to receive her like some sort of rock n roll communion. Then "Rill Rill" drops, she leaps off the front of the stage and crowd surfs while singing the chorus.

Once she makes it back to the stage and the song wraps, Krauss leans out, says "We love you, goodnight. We're Sleigh Bells," and walks off stage. The lights go dark. The crowd goes crazy, but it's clear that the set isn't over. There's no anticipation that's built up. It's a game of expectations. The three (or more) song encore is the new good show. Cut the set a little short and then give the appearance that the crowd has earned some special treatment by knocking out three more songs in a ten-minute span. It's a device.

All in all, Sleigh Bells puts on a good show, but it's still too contained. It has all the parts of a rock show, but the sum of those parts doesn't transcend the whole. What's more, it doesn't differentiate itself from the album material. The act might've been to Denver five times in the last two years, but it still seems like the band is searching for the right recipe.

Sleigh Bells catapulted to success really fast, and maybe at the expense of getting to experiment with form more. The addition of another guitarist is a step in the right direction, but why not go ahead and liberate the drums as well? Why not take the deconstructed power metal and reconstruct it in order to fully liberate the song structure? The show was awesome and fun, but it didn't feel like a revelation.

Click through for photos and a recap of Elite Gymnastic and Javelin's sets and Critic's Notebook.

Before Sleigh Bells's set, Elite Gymnastics and Javelin got the night started. The former opened with a decent concept that was marred by poor execution. No one can say they weren't warned, though: "This is going to be different than you expected, even if you've never heard us before. Bear with us." That's how Elite Gymnastics introduced themselves. And indeed, the act appeared on stage with its own "karaoke" set up, where the words were projected onto a screen behind, along with video of birds flying at sunset.

The problem was, it was too much like real karaoke -- the delivery was off tempo and sung poorly. The act lost additional points for using Autotune ironically -- or at least we hope it was ironic, otherwise...nevermind...it's better to try and forget. And the group's shortcomings were only amplified by the impressive set by Javelin that followed.

While Elite Gymnastics' percussionist could barely hold onto his sticks and spent more time off rhythm than on, Javelin's George Langford wailed away on electronic drum pads, triggering a Keith Moon-esque barrage of banging drums, offering a much needed palate cleansing. Not too mention, it was a lot of fun.

Surprisingly, Javelin had more pop in its live set is than its recorded output. The outfit has put out some weird stuff (check out Canyon Candy, for example, a simultaneous homage to the styles of both Ennio Morricone and Jimmie Rodgers), but you wouldn't know it if you only heard the group live. Javelin is signed to Luaka Bop (David Byrne's label), and its live show definitely contains hints of the Talking Heads, Of Montreal and some Men in Hats (in a good way). It's upbeat and infectiously catchy.

Oh, and ballsy. Out of nowhere, Javelin kicked into remixed covers of "Sabotage" (Beastie Boys) and "A Milli" (Lil Wayne) -- the latter closed out the set, drawing uproarious approval from the crowd. Tom spit Weezy's verses at about 75 percent speed over the top of an unrelated bunch of chopped up mariachi band samples. This being Javelin's first time in Denver, Tom Van Buskirk (the other half of the duo) joked about how they have oxygen waiting for them in the wings in case they blacked out.


Personal Bias: I think Treats is a better album than Reign of Terror.

Random detail: During a break between songs, Tom from Javelin randomly asked whether anyone from Rhinoceropolis was in the building. Someone raised their hand. There was no further explanation. Also, before the show started people had been lined up hours in advance for seemingly for no reason. By 8:30 p.m., there was only a small crowd inside standing around listening to a Mariah Carey CD. WTF?!

By the way: R.I.P. Jim Marshall. After Javelin's set, someone from the crew came out and yanked a sheet off the stack of amps that serve as the backdrop to Sleigh Bells. It was a dozen giant Marshall amps. (One of them could've been a refrigerator in disguise though.)

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