music: Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells.
in Your Pants
Bells, Around the World and Back
mixed crowd like I haven’t seen in years packed into Valentine’s
on Thursday night: college kids representing a variety of
scenes; jocks grinding on their girlfriends; punks; mods;
hipsters; metalheads; indie-dorks. And then there were the
people waiting outside.
If M.I.A. is the indie-electro version of Rage Against the
Machine, then Sleigh Bells are Limp Bizkit, the accessible
thing the meatheads can get down to with their girlfriends.
No scary, semi-educated political ranting, just heavy, distorted
beats and guitars. The band’s music and musicians are pretty
enough for a Honda commercial that recently began airing.
They have accessible electro-pop tunes like MGMT, but don’t
seem to be the kind of band that would pull an audience-alienating
move like Congratulations. And after saying all this
(Limp Bizkit comment included), I have to say I really dig
Singer Alexis Krauss isn’t M.I.A.-art-damaged-cute; she is
fantastically and accessibly sexy. Krauss wore spandex tights
with what seemed like an image of the universe on them, a
leather jacket, and under that a tiny shirt that didn’t do
much to cover her neon-green bra. She dripped sex. I hate
that I noticed this. I would have been happier picking apart
the band’s performance, but who am I kidding? Sleigh Bells
are not a band; they are guitarist Derek Miller, Krauss, and
a computer. And Krauss is undoubtedly the star. Miller entertainingly
wails away at his ax, but his guitar lines are simple—think
Ramones thrash, but way simpler—and despite his numerous Marshall
cabinets, his power chords were messy and sometimes off-cue.
The rest of the music was on a backing track.
The band played the entirety of their album Treats
almost in its exact track order, a mixture of DMX/Swizz Beats-inspired
grooves with heavy beats, Miller’s metal guitar, and Krauss’
shouting, cooing, and shrieking. There was no denying that
the crowd had come to see Krauss, and she went all-out, dancing,
stage diving, flailing about, and dousing herself in water.
It reminded me of a scene in The Runaways where Dakota
Fanning, playing Cherie Currie, struts and lip-synchs to David
Bowie during a high-school talent show, a blank stare in her
eyes. It was fun, hidden behind walls of rock and makeup,
with very little of herself on the line.
The band do what most college kids with a laptop and a guitar
could do at their houses in between bong hits, but it is so
simple, so much fun, that it is hard to deny. And even though
they seem sort of alone on stage without a full band, with
Krauss coming across more pop star than rock star, Krauss
brought enough urgency to make the crowd clap along, dance
and sweat like hell. “Riot Rhythm,” the Beastie Boys-esque
banger featured in that Honda commercial, had mad swagger
and featured some of Krauss’ finest rapid-fire vocal work.
“Rill Rill” gave Krauss a chance to mix her sexy hip-hop “uhs”
with a generic indie-girl band vibe. The song stood out because
the beats stopped for a minute and Miller left the stage to
let Krauss strut and plead, “Have a heart, have a heart.”
Miller returned for an encore and thrashed around a bit more,
and then they ran out of songs to play. Everyone poured out
of the club into the rain—and ran into people still waiting
outside to get in.
Albany’s Around the World and Back were a surprisingly competent
and engaging treat as the opening act, although it seemed
their set-up took as long as their set. Their Brit-rock with
impressive bass and percussion work was a perfect mix of technical
composure and pent-up anger. A well-known local-music aficionado
told me her first thought when the band finished their set
was, “How much longer are they going to be in Albany?”