Friday, November 20, 2009

Show Review: Sleigh Bells at (Le) Poisson Rouge

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 1:28 PM

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Along with the sprawling, dozen-member commune, the stark, minimal guy-girl duo has been the most ascendant band configuration of the nearly dead decade. It’s a naturally compelling setup. Without other band members to complicate things, the audience is free to read all sorts of interpersonal implications in to the music, no matter what the relationship of the performers might be. Derek Miller and Alison Krauss, the NYC twosome billed as Sleigh Bells, are factually platonic, but have even less than usual on stage to distract from daydreaming. Miller’s got a guitar, Krauss has a mic, and there’s an iPod plugged in somewhere providing the rest. Its canned, rising distortion signaled their early-Friday morning entrance to the Le Poisson Rouge stage, and instantaneously swelled the room’s ranks by a third. Really the only local unknowns to get suddenly white-hot from the recent CMJ Fest, Sleigh Bells play blown-out mutant pop, laced with lacerating guitar noise and thudding hip-hop beats. They’ve got less than a dozen songs at this point, but could plausibly be called one of the city’s hottest tickets.

Their fledgling live act leans heavily on the kinetic, junior Betty Page charisma of Ms. Krauss. Her voice is versatile, swinging quickly from sex grunting, to shout-rapping to clear, high singing. An unpolished swagger is persistent throughout. Absent a fully developed interplay between the band mates, she’s the reason why they’re so closely watched, so quickly. At this point, no one really blinks when Miller peaces out for a few tracks, leaving her to shimmy by her lonesome. Her coy teenage delivery on “Ring Ring” lets you forget that the borrowed Funkadelic loop she sings over is practically unaltered (“wondering what your boyfriend thinks about your braces” goes a particularly memorable line). Their songs work better when the bass-jacked, club-thumping low end is a counterpoint to jagged guitar lines, but not a focal point itself. The scattershot nonsense of the lines in songs like “Infinity Guitars” seems clunky next to the immediate, if vapid quality of manically repeated mantras like, “I’ve got my A machines on the table! I’ve got my B machines in the drawer!” (Though with the band’s limited palette, both places have got to be pretty small.)

They closed their maybe 20-25 minute set with “Crown on the Ground,” the best song they’ve yet mustered. More than any of their other tracks, it clarifies the co-dependence of Miller’s overblown heaviness and Krauss’ nimble pop performance. She gleefully danced around craters as the bombs dropped, bringing a by-then bouncing crowd along with her. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner, who’d been circling the room all night, must have gotten a smug grin of recognition witnessing the song’s dynamic in action. Afterwards, as the assembled dispersed for the door or the bar, one girl at the front politely asked Krauss to sign her chest. She sheepishly obliged. As portends for future rock stardom go, that’s not a bad one.

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