Originally published on October 21, 2010
Hot Chip / Sleigh Bells
October 16th at the Warfield, San Francisco
I always have an awesome time at music festivals, but the combination of long days of threading through crowds in the sun, distractions from flashy art installations and freaky people-watching, and excessive beer consumption makes them not always the best place to fully absorb and experience a band’s performance. There is always at least one artist I see at a festival (often times on a projection screen from a far away vantage point) that leaves me with a great desire to experience their music at their own headlining show in a more focused setting. For Coachella, this band was definitely Hot Chip. I decided I was going to see them as soon as I heard they were playing at the Warfield, and the buzz band Sleigh Bells (who also played at Coachella this year) opening the show was a great added bonus.
Upon entering the venue, I already knew that Sleigh Bells had started playing, as a huge bass drum beat reverberated throughout the entire building. For a two-person group, they certainly can produce a giant sound. The duo, Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss, rocked out in front of a wall of illuminated color-changing Marshall amps. Miller gnashed out convulsive guitar parts to sub-bass 808 beats that blasted through the speakers as Krauss’ melodic vocals provided a contrasting sweet and simple sound to the rest of the heavy mix. This combination worked out awesomely, and I thought their songs were both adrenaline inducing and beautiful to hear at the same time. One slower and poppier song, “Rill Rill”, got a lot of cheers from the audience as Krauss danced effortlessly up and down the stage. They finished their strong set with an auditory assault of the blow-out-your-speakers track “Crown on the Ground”, which was a great song to get the crowd pumped up for Hot Chip. The only problem I had with Sleigh Bells was that most of their music, except the vocals and some guitar parts, was just a recorded track played through the speakers. It would be pretty epic if they could get a live, touring drummer to bash out those huge drum parts.
During the set change, roadies hurried around to frantically set up Hot Chip’s massive amount of equipment. The lights dimmed in the concert hall and then brightly exploded on stage as the band appeared and jumped into their classic tune, “And I Was a Boy from School.” The song started off with a steel drum phase made into a recorded loop that continuously played throughout the song with all the other parts built around it. It was a really simple and cool way to begin the show, as the music started off slow and kept building up as more band members would join in and add to the blend of sounds.
Hot Chip continued to progress through a great set, playing cuts off their recent February releaseOne Life Stand, as well as many old favorites. “Over and Over” got a big response from the crowd, and people jumped up every time the guitar driven chorus came around. Hot Chip’s recorded albums are very polished and have a lot of studio effects in the mix, and I was not sure how well the songs would translate to being played live, but the band did it amazingly. They skilfully created deep infectious grooves by using up to four synthesizers at once in addition to guitars and various percussion instruments to create a layered mosaic of sound. Lead singer Alexis Taylor’s unique and gentle voice floated above the notes, juxtaposed against the deeper singing of the band’s other songwriter, Joe Goddard.
Other highlights of the show included the performance of “Hold On”, which turned into an elaborate jam with Taylor helping out on drums to create a tribal beat to match funky keyboard parts. Other members switched instruments throughout the show, and their level of proficiency at all of them was impressive. “Alley Cats” featured their drummer on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle was constantly changing between guitar, synths, bass, and the steel drums. All the musicians worked together to piece together the distinctive and enjoyable Hot Chip sound. After months of waiting to see the band since Coachella, this concert definitely surpassed my expectations. Their layered sounds translated interestingly from their recorded tracks to live performance, and being front and center in the middle of the band’s non-stop dance party is definitely the way to experience a Hot Chip show.