May 16, 2012

TO 'INFINITY GUITARS' AND BEYOND: SLEIGH BELLS LIVE

Sleigh Bells
Where: Warehouse Live, Houston, TX
When: April 18, 2012
With: Javelin, Elite Gymnastics

By Andy O'Connor (TX)

Trolls, this is the penbanger you're looking for.

Why am I covering Sleigh Bells, a band who's been on the cover of Spin, show on a metal site? Well, they're are an exception to one of metal's key characteristics: that when metal mixes with any other genre, metal is always the dominating influence. For example, you hear about jazz-metal, but do you hear about metal-jazz? Sleigh Bells aren't a metal group, but for dance music, it's awfully metal. The duo, comprised of former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller and singer/onetime Nickelodeon Magazine commerical actress/current crush Alexis Krauss, combine block rockin' beats with big guitars that would theaten to shoot punks to Mars. Krauss also has a penchant for going from indie goddess voice to cheerleader shout effortlessly. It's as though Slayer discovered dance music. They toy around with the metal aesthetic as well, as Jackson shred machines are strongly featured both in the design of their latest record, Reign of Terror, and in Miller's hands. Reign of Terror – that's a name for a metal album if I've ever heard one, and in fact, it's the title of one of Death's demos. Some of their merch designs spell “Sleigh” as “Slay,” because Slay Bells sounds tougher.

Cries of “hipsters!” and “ironic co-opting!” ring out, but I'm too busy dancing to care. Sure, they may attract an “indie” crowd, but people are into loud guitar music of some sort? Victory! The world needs less twee, less whimsical folk product, more distortion, more tinnitus.

And hey, sometimes I like to go to shows where there's girls.

Right after I parked, I witnessed a white car, can't recall the make and model, accelerate in reverse and crash into a building. As much as I try to live by the positive spirit of Three 6 Mafia rapper, Academy Award winner and mimosa connoisseur Juicy J, it was appalling to see someone get too turnt up too early. It was also an apt representation of, and also much more exciting than, the two bands that opened for Sleigh Bells: Elite Gynmastics and Javelin. While I arrived for the tail end of Elite Gynamsitics set, it was enough to conclude that they're neither 1%ers or athletic. Tepid dance-rock that tried to encourage the audience to sing through putting the lyrics up on a screen instead of writing, you know, memorable tunes. I've actually been witness – on accident – to Javelin once before during SXSW, while I was killing time at Cheer Up Charlie's before heading to Vice Kills Texas. Their quasi-Beastie Boys rapping and marshmallow pop wasn't fresh then, and nothing changed a month later.

Sleigh Bells' stage setup included two mini Marshall walls, two cabs tall by four cabs long. Cute, but if they want to make the big time, they have to go full-on Slayer (or at least try harder than Immortal). Krauss banged her head all metal thrashing mad, even when she was singing about what your boyfriend thinks about your braces. Miller and touring sideman Jason Boyer kept cool like guitar-slinging heartthrobs on the varsity team. There were more girls in floral skirts bouncing around in the front than most heshers do at metal shows. Was I falling victim to cultural misappropriation? You've never seen a dude in an Anhedonist shirt bounce wildly to “Infinity Guitars,” but you've most likely never met me either. As I watched Sleigh Bells, I realized they've got more in common with New York double-headed death metal beast Mortician than most people would think. Both bands use chunky guitar pieces as cornerstones of their sounds, both bands realize that a drum machine is mechanized muscle (Mortician have forgotten this live – Zombie Massacre Live is one of the worst records ever committed to CD), both boil down metal to the bare essentials and get a lot a mileage out of that simplicity. Doubt Miller and Krauss will be inducted into the New York Death Militia any time soon, but stranger things have happened. If there was a standout song of the night, it was “Comeback Kid,” which is one of this year's ultimate club bangers, the others being R. Kelly's “Share My Love” and Torche's “Kiss Me Dudely.” Throbbing synthetic double bass, licks hotter than a Houston summertime in a SLAB with no A/C, and Krauss' siren-esque vocals - how can you not get down?

For a short while after the show, I thought Sleigh Bells were the future of metal. By combining dance with metal, they could open up a whole new audience of heshers that like to get funky and bike messengers unafraid of gain. Everybody would thrash as one. It would be like the dance floor from the video of Daft Punk's “One More Time” with more hair. Then I realized I needed to sweat out my PBR a little more. A little idealism never killed anyone, right?

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