Review: Sleigh Bells at the Ogden, 6/4/11

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As a mid-level band headlining a place the size of the Ogden and charging 25 bucks a head, how do you justify playing a set that's barely as long as your opener (we're talking thirty minutes and some change here -- it will take longer to tell you about it than it did to perform it)? Fact is, you can't, and so you don't. No matter how you spin it, the prospect is indefensible. The best thing to do is to come out swinging, punch squarely in the mouth and keep relentlessly pummeling until you gas out.

Really, what else can you do when your popularity has so far exceeded your output, when you only have one album under your belt, with twelve songs and a grand running time of 31 minutes and 59 seconds? This approach worked famously for Sleigh Bells last night, which found itself in this exact position, playing in front of one of the biggest crowds on this tour, evidently -- if the Neon Indian dudes are to be believed.

Taking the stage just before 11 to the strains of "Iron Man," the duo of Alexis Kraus and Derek Miller completely mopped the floor with everybody and were dunzo by 11:30. No encore. No bullshit. In, out and done. Buh-bye. See ya. If you caught Sleigh Bells last fall at the Larimer or read the review, the show last night doesn't sound dramatically different. Wall of amps? Check. Charismatic, crowd-surfing frontwoman working the crowd into a sweaty frenzy? Uh-huh. Blinding flashes of light? Mmm-hmmm. Deafening volume? Ahem, what's that again?

Tipping the scales on the less-talk end of the less talk/more rock continuum, Krauss kept the chatter to a minimum, with banter that was succinct, profane and imbued with a certain, obnoxious OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS! sort of flair ("You're fucking awesome, Denver!").

Miller, meanwhile, opted to let his guitar do the talking for him -- not that any one of us could really make out much of much of what he was saying. The 808 hit so hard that not only did it render any sort of "where's the drummer" discussion positively moot, but the thundering thwaps essentially emasculated Miller's magnificent wall of Marshalls.

If you were hoping to see Sleigh Bells and hear any greater clarity from Miller's over-processed guitar tones on Treats, those hopes were summarily dashed. The bombast was certainly there, but thanks to the the cranium-rattling bass that overwhelmed and muddied the mix, by the time the sound waves reached those of us in the back, they were mostly muffled and almost sounded like someone had thrown moving blankets over the mains or like you were cupping your hands over your ears and then removing them in time with the beat.

Good thing there was plenty else to distract us. While most bands these days, especially at this level, go out of their way to craft elaborate staging -- from colorful backdrops to swirling lasers to giant LED screens with custom animations -- Sleigh Bells clearly sunk their money into a wall of stack amp props and a makeshift light show that was just a few notches above one of those ambitious suburban Christmas lighting displays you see on YouTube. The strobe effect of the stacks of flashers framing the amps wasn't seizure-inducing as much as it was just utterly fatiguing.

So while the set was criminally short by one measure, it felt mercifully concise by another. The major misstep here, if there was one, was not ending with "Rill Rill," which came toward the end of the set but would have actually made for a more suitable ending. The anamalous tune would have been perfect as exit music escorting the sweaty, smelly throng as they filed out shaking their heads in disbelief, muttering things like, "That set was only, like, twenty minutes long!" and "There's never an encore at these types of shows."

Indeed. And none needed, really. It's doubtful anyone left disappointed, especially those who came for a dance party.

Besides, we all knew what we were in for -- or at least we should have: a wall of beguilingly beautiful metallic noise. Even those who happened to be unfamiliar with Sleigh Bells could've taken a visual cue from the band's merch as they made their way into the Ogden -- T-shirts emblazoned with the RIP* logo or the words SLAY FUCKING BELLS -- or sonically, from the not-so subtle nods in the music between set changes, a steady stream of '80s rockers that included Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Van Halen and Joan Jett. The segue actually began even more tellingly and masterfully with Ace of Base's "The Sign," which slid into "Smells Like Teen Spirit," setting an ideal tone for the polished pop-steeped pummeling that was to come.

The contrast between Sleigh Bells and Neon Indian couldn't have been any sharper. The latter was blissfully banal by comparison. For the first part of the set, Neon Indian somehow managed to seem passionate and dispassionate all at once. While the band was clearly enthralled by the sounds it was creating on stage, the players appeared mostly oblivious to the fact that they even were performing in front of a live audience. The peripheral chatter during the group's set in the back of the crowd suggested that many were equally disinterested in acknowledging their presence.

It wasn't until the third or fourth song that Alan Palomo engaged the crowd. After marveling at the size of the turnout, he mentioned that the band is working on a new record and then whipped out a new tune to prove it, a synth-drenched number (natch) that had a bass line and ascending melody that sounded vaguely like New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle." But, really, you could say that about the bulk of Neon Indian's material, only substitute the band in question. As a matter of fact, the new album could very well be called It Came From the '80s, and VH-1 could even sponsor the tour.

Paltry crowd interaction aside, the members of Neon Indian definitely have decent stage presence. With his arms flailing and his hair whipping, the drummer sort of looked like Dave Grohl's illegitimate love child, and Palomo straight-up manhandled a theremin like nobody's business in a way that thrilled the crowd as typically only the best ripping guitar solos can.


Personal Bias: I think Treats is pretty freaking fantasic. It was one of my favorite records last year.
Random Detail: *The Sleigh Bells' RIP T-shirt design is a throw to the rad mid-'80s metal magazine of the same name founded by Larry Flynt Publications and edited by Lonn Friend.
By the Way: The only thing this set had that the Larimer didn't, apparently, was Travis Egedy from Pictureplane... oh, wait, is that -- ? What do you know? There's Travis, peering out from the rear edge of the side stage.

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