This time last year, buzz-band of the moment Sleigh Bells took to the Whelan’s stage with nothing to lose and absolutely everything to give. With a wall of large amps stacked onstage as a backdrop it was clear in advance that it was going to be one hell of a raucous ride along with Brooklyn duo Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller – and they dutifully exceeded all expectations and completely blew the sold-out crowd away with the delights of acclaimed debut album Treats. At just under 35 minutes it was short – but oh so very sweet.
“We’ve been talking about that show pretty much since we came offstage!”, says Krauss to a jam-packed Academy tonight. As have the capacity crowd who were lucky enough to be there, no doubt. For this their return to Irish soil a year on, Sleigh Bells have up-sized to a bigger venue, thanks to the acclaim surrounding the release of second album Reign of Terror which dropped earlier this month and sees the duo expand even further on their trademark brand of elecronic-rock. They’ve also added a second guitarist to the live setup, to aid Miller in the arduous task of executing those metal-infused riffs. So, there are undeniably elements of the new on display – why then, did the Sleigh Bells live experience feel a bit stale this time around?
First, the positives. Alexis Krauss is one hell of a leading lady – serious dance moves, the ability to carry off vocals whilst crowd-surfing, and the kind of natural flair and swagger that makes you feel positively uncool in comparison. Derek Miller plays the guitar in the manner which a kid making do with a tennis racket might dream of one day doing – thrashing around stage in a brash but brilliant manner. The strobe-tacular light show is dazzling. When the standouts of their catalogue of material to date are unleashed the reaction from the overzealous fans braving the madness of the moshpit is a sight to behold – see ‘Riot Rhythm’, ‘True Shred Guitar’, ‘Crown on the Ground’ and ‘Infinity Guitars’. In contrast, the almost hypnotic ‘Rill Rill’ and the laid-back ‘End of the Line’ allow for appreciation of the more melodic side of Sleigh Bells.
But for everything else in between, there’s just something lacking. Initially it’s easy to ignore that Sleigh Bells are performing to a backing track – that is, until the duo of guitarists leave the stage for ‘Kids’ and ‘Rill Rill’ to leave Alexis flying solo with playback. Now that the buzz-band hype fog has cleared, the lack of full live instrumentation is a lot more noticeable – sure, Sleigh Bells can still blow a crowd away with their obnoxiously loud sound – but how about laying off the ear-bleedingly abrasive distortion and expanding a bit by maybe adding some live drums?
The warriors on the ground floor didn’t seem to have a problem with it, happily streaming out of The Academy sweaty and bruised from the hour of simultaneous rockin’ and ravin’, but the view from the safety of the balcony told a different tale – Sleigh Bells, undeniably brilliant for a 30 minute summer festival set… not so much for a headline venue takeover of a Monday eve.
Photo by Damien McGlynn from last year’s Whelan’s gig.