Thursday, July 15, 2010

Live Music: Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells @ Zanzabar, Louisville KY w/ Nerve City and Po Po

By Paul Steven Brown

When I go out to see a band play live, it's not to hear them sound like the actual record. I want the mistakes and the unplanned happy accidents. I want crowd interaction. I especially want to hear a different sound dynamic than what is presented on disc. I certainly don't want to see what amounts to glorified karaoke.

I have nothing against sequencing to flesh out a live show sound when a band has a limited number of players. When I saw the Flaming Lips about a decade ago during the tour for The Soft Bulletin, they were only a three person act. While they used sequenced drums and instruments, the vocals, bass, and guitar or keyboard were played live. Also, a Flaming Lips show is always a spectacle which more than trumps any backing track usage.

Sleigh Bells may want to take some notes from the boys from Oklahoma.

I like Treats, the debut album from Brooklyn's Sleigh Bells. There is a huge amount of deserved buzz around them and their amalgamation of heavy metal riffs, dance beats, and cheerleader shouts. The mixing of the album has everything pushed into the red. It's loud, but a good loud. Think the Go! Team but cranked to eleven. Treats may very well be the album of the summer and "Rill Rill" is destined to appear in a commercial before you know it. Look for the dance team or cheer squad at your local high school or college perform to something on this album during halftime at a basketball game this winter.

Granted Sleigh Bells is only two people: singer Alexis Krauss and musician Derek Miller, but they certainly could have done something to make their live show at Zanzabar in Louisville, KY last night more eventful. Krauss was micced, which was evident by her screams and interaction with the crowd. There were backing track vocals to support her, but Krauss was very live after the sound board pumped her volume up after the opening number. The crowd responded to her and there was plenty of singing along. Miller was a different story.

He jumped around with guitar strapped to his body and strummed it, but I'm not totally convinced that he was actually playing it. He could have been totally drowned out by the backing track. Maybe he such a perfectionist that he played flawlessly (no blown licks, no unintended feedback, no improvisation, no between song noodling, etc.) and was able to mix his guitar to the exact same level with the very same effects that it sounds on the album. If that was the case, why? There's no dynamic. In fact, for a band that put out such a loud sounding album, their mix on stage was extremely flat. Unlike the opening acts, I didn't even have to wear my ear plugs during Sleigh Bells' set.

Here's some suggestions for Sleigh Bells:

1. Turn up the guitar. Make it feel like an actual live rock show. Improvise a little. If I want listen to the record, I would have stayed at home and saved some money.
2. Get a second vocalist. Krauss can still be the star, but another live supporting voice and body would have made for a more energetic, spontaneous live show.
3. A second live instrument, please. Guitar, keyboard, bass, drums; I don't care. Something needs to be added to warm up the mix and made it more organic. Also, it puts and extra body on stage and would liven up the performance.

Also on the bill were Nerve City and Po Po, a pair of two-person bands. These two of acts were certainly live and very loud. Both were unoffensive, but pretty unremarkable. Po Po reminded me somewhat of a sloppy Death From Above 1979.

It's also worth noting that all these bands played around 30 minutes a piece with an equal amount of time between sets. I don't understand why it took so long between bands. It's not like these two-person acts had a lot of equipment to breakdown. Sleigh Bells had their rig already prepped behind the openers' equipment, yet stood around for an extra fifteen to twenty minutes after Po Po had cleared out. The show was sold out, so it wasn't like they were waiting for more people to arrive.

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