Sleigh Bells Live at Festival Pier in Philadelphia
Celebrating its twelth anniversary, dance music radio program Making Time RADio hosted a “Hyper-Rager,” an outdoor concert featuring a DJ and live acts. Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells headlined the show, with Phantogram and Twin Shadow supporting. The event was at Festival Pier along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, adding some suprise elements that enhanced the show.
DJs Dave P. and Sammy Slice spun the lead-in music at full volume, applying the legal limit of bass while the audience trickled in. Brooklyn-via-Florida-via-Dominican Republic’s Twin Shadow hit the stage a little after 7pm. Looks-wise and sound-wise, he is a cross between Morissey and Prince, and his modern new wave style was backed by bass, drums and keys—a reminder to the audience that full bands still exist. He was followed by Phantogram from upstate New York, led by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. They also had a real trap kit to augment the triggered loops. During Phantogram, the stage lights were trained on the audience more so than the band, amplifying the windswept mist that accompanied Phantogram’s layered, atmospheric sound—the first bonus effect provided by the venue.
Those openers provided logical escalation towards Sleigh Bells. As soon as Phantogram was done, stagehands revealed the army of Marshall cabinets standing at attention, ready on command to attack the crowd. Just before 10pm, symphonic keyboards and smoke preceded the arrival of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller (as well as touring guitarist Jason Boyer). They launched on stage to the opening guitar notes of “Demons” from Reign of Terror, and the amps glowed red in warning. As the rest of the loops kicked in, the light and sound assault made Sleigh Bells’ mission clear: They were here to blind us, and then kill us.
Not that anyone minded. Krauss jumped around in her signature studded leather jacket and black and tan shorts, and there was little to do but dance along. “Crown on the Ground” from Treats and “True Shred Guitar” were just as violent, with the inflated bass-drum sound drowning out the guitars (instead of the other way around as on the albums). But Krauss and her alternating sing-songiness and cheerleading was the main attraction. For “Kids,” the guitarists left her alone on the stage, and it took about half a song before anyone noticed they diappeared.
The between-song banter made it obvious Krauss was not lip syncing. Her vocal mic was heavily delayed for both singing and talking. They slowed down the beginning of “Born to Lose,” providing a rare moment of Krauss and Miller with no other tracks. While it gave credence to the authenticity of the performance, it also revealed Krauss’s limitations as a singer. The aural break was welcomed, though it wasn’t long before the song continued proper, with multi-bass hits and matching lights assailing the crowd like machine gun fire.
During “Comeback Kid,” Krauss discarded the jacket, a subtle move that ensured the crowd was still with her. On “Rill Rill,” with Krauss alone on stage once again, serendipitous fireworks launched across the river, and they were audible and strangely well-timed during the slower bits of the song. Krauss crowd-surfed during the third verse, never missing a beat.
Finally, Sleigh Bells ended the night with “A/B Machines” from Treats. There was no encore, but such a pause would have just interrupted the flow of the evening. Sleigh Bells burned through fifteen songs in under an hour, leaving the audience within an inch of its life.
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