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Live Review and Photos: Sleigh Bells, February 22, 2012, Mayan Theater – Los Angeles, CA

On February 22nd in the year 2012, the biggest band in the indie/blog/music media/whatever consciousness was Sleigh Bells. The duo graced the cover of Spin Magazine, had just appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, and had released their second album, Reign Of Terror, to much critical praise (including here). But, like any artist that is suddenly receiving more attention than at any point in their career, some major scrutiny and (dare I say) a backlash seemed imminent. Their Saturday Night Live performance alone was the talk among the pre-show proverbial water cooler, with some fair judgement being made about the way Sleigh Bells sounded on the show but some unfair selective forgetting that, well, pretty much every band sounds like shit on Saturday Night Live. But, if the Twitter feeds were to believed last Saturday night, it is apparent that the music writing community loves building up artists to watch them fall, as if “I told you so” were words that resided comfortably on the tip of their tongue at all times. Well, the people who say I told you so about Sleigh Bells miss the whole point of Sleigh Bells. This is not a band made to sound good on T.V. This is a band made to hurt your ears, a band to incite movement, a band to play as hard and loud for a brief time as their bodies and equipment let them. Sleigh Bells bring it back to what my brother would tell me when I was a kid: “if it is too loud, you are too old.”

And while Sleigh Bells music was on display first and foremost, the entire event couldn’t help but feel like a spectacle, right down to the merch table that sold jerseys that rebranded the band “Slay Bells.” Throughout the set, which lasted less than an hour, even people in the high rafters of the Mayan balcony danced and waved their hands into the air with each song, feeding off the energy the band brought to the stage. But, the kids who really came to play could be found on the floor, reacting to the frenetic tunes with a hybrid of dancing and moshing, jumping up and down when the music moved them to do so and regularly crowd-surfing. From above, the scene resembled both a rave and a hardcore punk show, two ends of the musical spectrum that seem diametrically opposed except for the fact that they hinge on youth. Perhaps that is why the floor seemed so crazy, as well: that was the all-ages section.

The Sleigh Bells set has yet to really become all about Reign Of Terror, their newest offering. The biggest points of the set were from their first album, Treats, but that isn’t to say that the new tunes weren’t given their fair shake. The 1-2 opening punch of “True Shred Guitar” and “Born To Lose” started the evening as the new album begins, but with the added benefit of intense strobes and a wash of pink lighting. “Comeback Kid” predictably received the biggest reaction of the new tunes, with the crowd seemingly becoming an ocean, moving less as individuals than as waves. And, standing out the most of the new songs was “Demons,” which was saved for the encore and could easily stand with the band’s earlier tunes in both attitude and swagger.

But, the crowd was obviously more entranced by the Treats songs (after all, the new album was just released on that day). “Kids” and “Tell ‘Em” were clear favorites early in the set, but the encore performance of “Rill Rill” and “Crown To The Ground” revealed those two as among the revelatory moments of a band that you only get from a crowded live show. Aiding the way the tunes were received was the sheer enthusiasm of Alexis Krauss and Derek E. Miller. Miller’s backup vocals were barely audible, but the conviction with which he delivered them could sell even the most stern skeptic. And, of course there was his move where he grabs the guitar by the neck and points it at the crowd, as if the instrument was an extension of his arm, as if he was so caught up in the moment that he forgot he was supposed to be playing his guitar.

But, while Sleigh Bells is very much a two-person band (or, three person with the addition of a second guitarist for their last few live shows), Alexis Krauss is the figure that you can’t stop watching when she is on stage. In fact, for a couple numbers, including “Rill Rill,” she actually stood by herself on the stage, like a pop diva gone horribly wrong (or horribly right). Krauss didn’t have much banter for the crowd and mostly just egged them on with shouts of “Los Angeles!” and “Are you ready!?” and shit like that. Whatever works. And, when she took a couple rides on the hands of the audience during the encore, it felt obligatory, but the laugh she gave when she said goodbye for the evening couldn’t have felt more sincere. Then, she ripped a setlist from the ground and threw it into the crowd, showing genuine appreciation in the wake of a set built on confrontation. As the music media is showing, an us-versus-them attitude is forming with Sleigh Bells, and you are either for them or against them. But, judging by their show at the Mayan, it is a more comfortable place to reside in their corner and I don’t envy anyone who joins the backlash.

Sleigh Bells setlist:

True Shred Guitar
Born to Lose
Riot Rhythm
A/B Machines
End of the Line
Comeback Kid
Tell ‘Em
Leader of the Pack
Straight A’s
Infinity Guitars

Rill Rill
Crown on the Ground

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