Sleigh Bells: 24 April 2011 – Austin, TX

Sleigh Bells

The first word I think to use to describe Sleigh Bells is loud. Whether listening on my iPod, computer, or in the car, when it’s set to shuffle and Sleigh Bells comes on, the volume simply must be turned down. Seems an obvious description for a band categorized as “noise pop,” but I for one cannot say I fully understood their potential to be loud until I was standing in front of them, thrashing guitars and synthesized (head splitting, pulsating) beats reverberating to my very core.

As I walked into La Zona Rosa, I spotted a wall of amps stacked at the back of the stage (with LED light panels mixed in like an indie rock game of Tetris) — an affirmation to my suspicion that this show was going to blow some eardrums.

The prospect of going deaf and blind didn’t seem to be worrying anyone. I became more concerned about the latter when I discovered the collection of sunglasses at the soundboard (the crew passed them out to people who bothered to chat them up saying, “You’ll need these”).

Though Sleigh Bells has been an “it band” in the hipster scene for quite a while, I only heard of them this past December. And I dare say all too late as one of their songs (their fourth single “Rill Rill”) has already been featured on an episode of Gossip Girl — bands cannot remain cool in the hipster scene once they’ve reached the masses (I say with heavy sarcasm and much disapproval).

Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss are the Brooklyn-based duo Sleigh Bells. Krauss’s voice is multi tracked on every single song, which left some concert goers surprised to learn that there were “only two of them”.

The two met at the restaurant where Miller was working as a waiter. Krauss was having lunch with her mother who decided to strike up a conversation with Miller and soon offered up Krauss, who was a 4th grade teacher at the time, to sing in the band Derek said he was trying to start. They recorded a demo in Derek’s apartment, and played the NYC club scene for a year before being discovered by M.I.A., who signed them to her label. It’s been nothing but festivals and glowing scenester reviews since.

At the venue, in the vicinity of the soundboard, was the schedule for the night. Doors opened at 8 pm and Sleigh Bells weren’t scheduled to go on until 11:30 – then only playing a thirty-five minute set. The warm up act, CSS, would play for an hour and fifteen minutes. Never had I been to a concert where the headlining band’s set was shorter than the warm up. But of course this was not intended to become common knowledge.

The Brazilian new rave band CSS (an abbreviation for Cansei de Ser Sexy, “got tired of being sexy” in Portuguese) was the opening act. Would it surprise you that this band has a lead singer that goes by the name Lovefoxxx? Despite the infectious nature of their somewhat silly lyrics (“if someone drops you on the floor and you don’t know who did it”), I have a hard time with sets where every song is introduced like, “This song is about friends!” and “This song is about ambition!”. Maybe that’s a Brazilian thing. Or maybe I just really wanted to get to Sleigh Bells’ thirty-five minute set.

When it was finally 11:30 PM, Sleigh Bells took the stage to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, which transitioned into their song “Crown on the Ground” (one of my personal favorites and also one of the loudest). It was the sensory overload I was waiting for and, thankfully, expecting. To say you could feel the volume would be a gross understatement. I don’t understand how those concertgoers who failed to bring earplugs did not have blood oozing from their ears.

The pulsating riffs assisted the crowd to move in sync to the beat, though this motion might have been involuntary. Seeing sound waves moving a mass of people was a fun sight to behold from my perch behind the sound booth. Sleigh Bells’ music is super fun and poppy, though not particular danceable; head bobbing and flailing about is pretty much the extent of it.

As Sleigh Bells only has one album (last summer’s Treats) hearing all the songs you hoped they would play wasn’t an issue — though they should have padded their set with some new songs or covers. Krauss sang in tune for the whole set, a feat I am utterly impressed by since I don’t see how she could possibly hear herself standing in front of the massive wall of amps. Strangely, “Infinity Guitars”, their latest single, is the only song they took any liberties with, mixing Krauss’s voice differently than it is on the album.

Feeling it would take me a day or two for my hearing to recoup, as I left La Zona Rosa, there were two guys walking ahead. “I SAID, ‘THANK YOU’”, one of them hollered at the other. That golden moment summed up the evening perfectly. Though short and sweet, I got my Sleigh Bells fix.