Concert Reviews

Sleigh Bells at the Larimer Lounge, 10/23/10

Pictureplane • Sundelles
10.23.10 | Larimer Lounge, Denver, CO

Read interview with Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells

Brooklyn newcomers Sundelles opened the show with a sort of surfy garage rock, sounding kind of like the Pixies with all of the idiosyncrasies ironed out. It was pleasant enough, but the few songs I caught, at least, didn't make much of an impression.

Travis Egedy's extensive time on the road over the past year may have kept him from writing much new material, but it has certainly helped him develop some delightful stage patter. A few choice nuggets from his Pictureplane set:

"This song is about post-human sexuality. I'm from Denver -- I live right down the street."

"This is a song about outer space."

"This song is about interstellar teenage vampires. Any teenage vampires in the house?"

"These are the original goth jocks right here. We've got mesh shirts. We don't give a fuck."

"This is another song about outer space."

Egedy stuck mostly to Dark Rift material, which hasn't lost its ability to start a party, which is exactly what he does best. Even without the hometown connection, he made perfect sense as an opener for the similarly H.W. Bush-era-indebted Sleigh Bells; Pictureplane is the bit-reduced, hallucinatory Madonna to Sleigh Bells's winking, sample-heavy Guns N' Roses. Props to Egedy for landing a spot on tour with one of the biggest buzz bands of the year.

On paper and even on record, Sleigh Bells's formula -- cock-rock riffs, thudding hip-hop beats, Alexis Krauss's girlish coo -- seems too gimmicky to stay fresh for very long. And the duo's stage show doesn't necessarily dispel that idea, or even try to: Krauss and Derek Miller just try to make you forget it through pure brute force. And to their credit, they almost succeed.

Though only a small portion of Miller's wall of Marshall cabinets (cute gag, by the way) was actually powered, the band had only two volume levels, as they say: loud and louder. No, really: The first half of "Infinity Guitars," for example, only seems blunt and martial until Miller kicks up the guitar another seven or eight notches, and then you realize what loud can be.

But that's just a matter of voltage. Far more crucial is the stage presence of Alexis Krauss. Perhaps thanks to her teen-pop background, she works a crowd like she's been performing for decades, thrusting the mike into the crowd at least twice in each song, fiving fans like she's Bono, and generally reveling in the idea of being a rock star.

Miller even left her alone on stage for a couple songs, including "Rill Rill," the one song they've so far written that suggests a plausible future for the band. At least a few songs from debut album, Treats, are pretty catchy, but "Rill Rill" is the one time that Miller tones down the cheeky fist-pumping and lets Krauss actually sing a little bit, allowing the song to get stuck in your head the old-fashioned way--with a nice melody. And aside from "Infinity Guitars," it was "Rill Rill" that got the biggest response the other night; alone on stage, Krauss got the opportunity to set aside the rock-star drag and actually charm us, and we swooned accordingly.

With all of about thirty minutes of material to work with, Sleigh Bells's set wasn't much longer than that, even with a brief break for an encore, but that was probably for the best. The band's shtick may not be sustainable, but Miller and Krauss clearly know exactly how well it can work in short bursts, and how to milk those bursts for all they're worth. They're doing well with their fifteen minutes; here's hoping they'll evolve enough to warrant a re-up.

Click through for Critic's Notebook

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I came prepared to hate Sleigh Bells, what with the act's NYC buzz-band pedigree and postmodern gimmickry, and while I still wouldn't call myself a fan, I'll acknowledge a kick-ass stage show when I see one. Random Detail: Toward the end of Sleigh Bells's set, Travis Egedy ran across the stage and sorta-dove into the crowd for an abortive crowd-surf. But without seeming like a jerk. By the Way: Don't know that I've ever heard of a show at the Larimer selling out ahead of time. Place was packed.
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Kyle Smith