Originally published on June 3, 2011
Sleigh Bells / Neon Indian
June 1st at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco
San Francisco fans of Sleigh Bells came out in full force this past week to support the band and see them through three sold-out shows. A last minute concert was booked at the Rickshaw Stop after the two previous nights at the Independent sold out early. The Rickshaw has a guest capacity that is less than half of the Independent, and the lucky fans that scored tickets to the show were treated to a larger-than-life performance. The crowd rocked out with the band all through their set, and their excitement could be literally felt as the temperature rose sharply, from the floor to the balcony.
Neon Indian took the stage before Sleigh Bells and got the crowd moving to their heavily modulated indie-electronic songs. This buzz band with their exponentially growing fan-base alone could have sold out the Rickshaw. Neon Indian is Alan Palomo’s project, and he tours with additional musicians to recreate the heavily layered sounds of the studio tracks. Except for the live drums and bass, all the music is electronically composed and performed. Palomo switched between keyboards, other effects consoles, and a Theremin, all while singing the lead reverberating vocals for every song. The only thing that sounded amiss was the drum parts, which seemed too light to be a component of the interchanging mix of sounds. The simplistic 4/4 beats could use a shake-up to better fit the rest of the songs. Regardless, the crowd got into the music and swayed along to Palomo’s hypnotizing songs of endless arpeggiated loops and hyper-processed notes.
The house music between bands was a playlist of classic hard-rock songs, and it caught the crowd off guard when Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells came out onstage in the middle of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Miller ground out the well-known notes over the recorded version coming through the speakers, and the crowd responded hyperactively, punching the air together with the draw- out notes. This intro to the show seemed to be a declaration from the band that they were going to rock the house that night; you best hold on to your PBRs. The duo melted the Sabbath song into their own composition, “Crown on the Ground.” They played their album Treatsin its entirety, as they have not yet recorded a follow-up. The band has been touring extensively since the album was released a year ago, and their hard work has paid off: Fans knew all the words to songs and danced hard the whole way through the set.
I saw Sleigh Bells earlier this year when they were supporting Hot Chip at the Warfield, and this show had a very different feel to it. I would say that this band is much better suited to play smaller venues, as their huge sound makes the walls shake. Sleigh Bells songs are designed first and foremost to be as loud as possible when blasted through their giant wall of stacked amps spanning the length of the stage. The small size of the room allowed the space to be illuminated by constantly erupting programmed lights that changed in sync with the music. The stage at the Rickshaw Stop is also very low to the ground, and it was great to watch Miller and Krauss lean over and be enveloped by the mass of people in front of them.
When seeing Sleigh Bells, it’s impossible not to notice that the only live music coming through the speakers is Krauss’ vocals and Miller’s guitar riffs with everything else pre-recorded. Many rock fans could label this inauthentic or say it’s a phoned-in performance. Originally, I thought they should use supplemental touring band members, but I now see it’s part of what makes them an original group. The show felt similar to a hip-hop show, with Krauss’ crystal clear voice the main focus and Miller as the DJ laying out the beats in the background.
Sleigh Bells packs venues to capacity night after night because of their vitriol-infused two-person stage presence paired with s fresh and explosive sound. It was like a bomb went off in the venue as the band played through their short but volatile repertoire. If you get the chance to see Sleigh Bells in a small setting like this, get your tickets early and prepare to be blasted away. If you want to keep hearing Bells for days after the show, forget the earplugs and dance as close to the amps as you can.