Concert + Album Review: Sleigh Bells “Bitter Rivals” Album Release Show at Le Poisson Rouge: October 5, 2013
Boom boom crash! Cymbals banging in electronic explosion! Machine guns as musical instruments! These are some of the sounds that Sleigh Bells have provided over their first few years across two albums – 2010’s Treats and 2012’s Reign of Terror. Now they’re back for more with the release tomorrow of Bitter Rivals. This past Saturday night I was one of the lucky few to have a chance to attend the album release show at Greenwich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge and score an advance copy of the album. Let me assure fans of the Brooklyn band – you will not be disappointed at all with the band’s third effort. While it isn’t quite more of the same, it certainly stays within the wheelhouse of Sleigh Bells’ loud, hard-partying first two excellent albums – it is another celebration of noise punk/pop.
Singer Alexis Krauss mentioned a few times during the show that LPR was one the first places that her and bandmate Derek Miller played, almost four years ago to the day. In that time the duo has grown, but it hasn’t gown up. Their motivation is still to smile and dance while kicking ass, your militant older brother to Matt & Kim‘s sweet little girl. Saying older brother does a disservice to Krauss though, who brings as violent a force to pop music as much as any male vocalist could. Krauss came out wearing a full-length leopard print boxing robe with the words “Bitter Rivals” stitched across the back; from the moment she stormed onto the stage – with Miller wielding a tiger-themed guitar – and burst into opening numbers “Minne” and “Comeback Kid” the crowd was the subject of the audio assault that every Sleigh Bells fan relishes.
“Minnie” was one of the many new songs performed by the band, as the set list (below) was an even mix of the new and the old. Naturally the older songs were crowd favorites, but the new ones – never before heard except by the die-hard album streamers – held their own and received just as warm a reception. This is because Bitter Rivals picks up right where Treats and Reign of Terror left off. There is a slow evolution in the sound that shows that Sleigh Bells is becoming more sophisticated musically – the leap from Treats to Bitter Rivals is significant, though from consecutive albums it is much more gradual. Certain songs could easily be mistaken as being from either of the first two albums (for example, “Minnie” and “Tiger Kit”) but others, especially “Sing Like a Wire” and “You Don’t Get Me Twice”, demonstrate advancement from the band. “Young Legends” goes even further as for the first time the band utilizes an acoustic guitar (gasp!) both on the album and in the live show. Somehow though, when wielded by Miller, the acoustic guitar is no less a weapon of mass destruction than its electric counterpart.
In total the band (which had a supporting guitarist and drummer in addition to Krauss and Miller) played 15 songs, none better than show finale “A/B Machines.” Krauss leaned her body into the crowd – all night long her body language threatened that she’d finally join us on the floor – and pumped up the room by chanting over and over again: “Got my A machines on the table / Got my B machines in the drawer.” Like Phoenix at Barclays two night before, Sleigh Bells invited the crowd to climb up on stage and close out the show with them, but unlike Phoenix this felt much more natural, as the band members became swallowed up by the emotion catharsis they created through their music.
The entire song consists of just those 14 words repeated over and over again, which sums up the Sleigh Bells experience. Krauss and Miller take a little raw material and do so much to it through energy, distortion and volume that it’s impossible not to get swept up in the raw aggro-enthusiasm they attack you with at all times.”A/B Machines” is the quintessential phase 1 Sleigh Bells song; “Sing Like a Wire”, “You Don’t Get Me Twice”, and much of Bitter Rivals (including the title track, which is the first single off of the album) is a more evolved phase 3, using different slightly different material and a more sophisticated (if simpler) process to yield a new result.
If you enjoy listening to catchy electronic music that sounds like it was created by a duo while they were in boxing training – as Miller and Krauss were – I highly recommend picking up Bitter Rivals. As Miller himself put it, “This record feels like a fight to me. It’s just scrappier and leaner. And Alexis sounds really pissed.” And make sure to listed to it loud!
Sleigh Bells – Le Poisson Rouge 10/05/13 – setlist