Sleigh Bells, Neon Indian Slay Hearts and Minds at the Independent
Last night’s Sleigh Bells/Neon Indian show at the Independent was one of those nights we’ll recall 20 years from now when we’re explaining to our robot doctor why we’ve gone partially deaf:
“Why didn’t you wear ear plugs?” the doctor will ask, unfamiliar with human masochism.
“Well. It was f-ing’ Sleigh Bells doc. They’re gloriously loud, and we didn’t want to miss a decibel,” we’ll say sans regret, adding “that’s kind of the point with some bands. Now fix me.”
Certainly, MIA-approved, NYC-based Sleigh Bells knows how to deafen. Just a two-piece — alternately sweet and abrasive lead singer Alexis Krauss and songwriter-guitarist-producer Derek E. Miller — Sleigh Bells shook concrete like few have at the Indy. Miller’s caffeinated guitars swung and hung over pre-recorded beats and synths, while Krauss, sporting her signature re-imagined Chicago “Bells” jersey (and with “Slay” spelled out on back) did her indie glam thing in front of a seizuring onslaught of strobe lights and a wall of speakers and woofers turned to 11. With only Miller to mind, Krauss bounced from stage left to right, back to front, before eventually heaving herself on top of the crowd a few times. It was essentially the ultimate karaoke performance, albeit of her own material, from the band’s hyper-praised debut album, “Treats” (with one exception).
The band's sound is distinctly current, and the duo insists on a brand of garage electronica with little regard for organic or real-time instrumentation — one of the few criticisms leveled upon this young but promising start-up. There are a few songs that beg for the presence of a full band, the most glaring example being “Rill Rill,” a lollygagging acoustic-guitar ditty about teenage insecurity. But we’re mostly OK with focusing our lens on Krauss, who operates under a cloak of mystery. On Monday, she revealed little about herself onstage beyond her tatted arms and silver/black zebra tights.
After an ever-so-brief 30-minute set, Krauss returned for the first song of her encore, which may have been the most interesting spectacle of the night. A slow, entrancing build of pulsing synths laid the foundation for Krauss to get operatic, solitarily unveiling her soprano range, reminding us not to discount her voice as an instrument of great skill.
Co-headliner Neon Indian is the foil to a band like Sleigh Bells, at least on paper. They’ve been labeled as “chillwave,” and on record it’s a fitting descriptor. But in the live format, bandleader Alan Palomo’s project takes on a different form, somewhere in the realm of electro disco pop. It seemed the Independent crowd was more inclined to dance than chill.
It was also fascinating to see how this complex, sample-heavy sound would come together in person. Drummer Jason Faries made the dance-beats possible while bouncing bouy-like on his seat, a dead ringer for “Animal” from the Muppets. Keyboardist-vocalist Leanne Macomber kept one eye on her soundboard, manipulating samples with dials. Palomo, when not singing in his muted dream-pitch, played an instrument that seemed to be a combination of a transmitter and an electromagnetic wand, using his hand to trigger something akin to a transitioning radio wave, as if his instrument were an Xbox Kinect.
They played a good chunk of their album “Psychic Chasms,” including winners such as “Deadbeat Summer,” “Local Joke” and “Terminally Chill.” The FOMO-inspired song “Should Have Taken Acid With You” was another poignant number, taking the sober among us to places of altered consciousness, reminding us that chemicals are not always necessary to consider the surreal, or at least feel weird.
Palomo also reported that the band had just finished recording a new album two and a half weeks ago, and they played a few songs from the session, keeping in line with the experimental bend of this fringe-pushing band.