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Body music: Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Party in Your Pants

By David King

Sleigh Bells, Around the World and Back

Valentine’s, Sept. 30

A 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 the band.

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?”

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