Review: Sleigh Bells bring 'Reign of Terror' to the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
The vibe Sleigh Bells seems to want to convey goes something like this: A short, vaguely anonymous rock geek from the A/V Club somehow befriends the most intimidating bad girl in senior class, and together they strut the halls with enough swagger to draw stares from all directions.
Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss may look like an odd pair, and they’re certainly not anyone's idea of an average rock ‘n’ roll band, but the crazed energy they exude in concert is unmistakable and infectious. On Saturday at the Ritz Ybor, Miller, Krauss and hundreds of fans worked up a sweat together as Sleigh Bells tore Tampa a new one during their eight-city tour through Florida with DJ/producer Diplo.
The tour is noteworthy because on Feb. 21, Sleigh Bells will release their second album, Reign of Terror. Which means Floridian indie rock fans, so used to complaining about how this band or that band never comes to our far-flung state, are getting a preview of one of the most anticipated albums of spring. No one saw it coming, but this Brooklyn-by-way-of-Florida pop-metal duo has become a flagbearer for the Sunshine State.
Let’s jump right into the new stuff.
Sleigh Bells played five new songs, including Born to Lose and first single Comeback Kid, which sounds stellar live, even though it is a pretty obvious homage to Nirvana’s In Bloom. (Miller, who wears a Nirvana T-shirt in the song’s video, also wore one onstage Saturday.) Tampa fans also got a taste of three all-new songs: True Shred Guitar, to which they entered the stage; End of the Line, a slower shoegaze ballad laden with squealy guitars; and Leader of the Pack, a blasting march with heavy drops, spiraling Pixies-ish riffs and what sounded like chimes.
Though Miller is the architect of Sleigh Bells’ sound, there really isn’t much for him to do in concert – stride around the stage, chop his guitar like an axe, occasionally provide backing vocals. Sometimes, as on Rill Rill and the unstoppable Kids, he’s not needed at all, so he leaves the stage. It’s odd, but you get used to it.
Thankfully, Krauss is there to serve as head cheerleader. Athletic and energetic in the extreme, she carries herself more like a rapper or pop star than a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, though she can still bang heads with the best of them. She seems to be working her sexuality a bit more than in the past, as evidenced by the oddly suggestive video for Comeback Kid. Instead of her traditional Chicago Bulls/Sleigh Bells jersey, she wore a sleeveless oversized tee, ripped on the sides to reveal a black bra underneath. During Treats -- the heaviest song from the album of the same name – she could be seen subtly grinding her hips behind the mic pole. Hey, whatever works.
Krauss is also known for her sojourns into the audience, and she crowd-surfed twice during the encore. During Rill Rill, she slowly leaned back into the first few rows, as if gliding into a pool; at one point she pushed away a security guard who tried to reel her back in to the stage. Afterward, she hung out in the Ritz foyer to chat and take photos with fans. She’s a people pleaser.
Sleigh Bells has always reminded me of the White Stripes (and not just because of the boy-girl thing), but Reign of Terror seems to be taking them into more expansive Yeah Yeah Yeahs territory (and not just because they’ve added a second touring guitarist). And Krauss is evolving as a performer – she may not be Karen O (who is?), but what she lacks in theatricality, she more than makes up for in sheer exuberance and a willingness to do anything to connect with fans. When she wanted you to jump, you jumped. When she wanted you to scream, you screamed.
Sleigh Bells followed openers Liturgy, whose black-metal stoner dirges tested the patience and eardrums of many a Rill Rill fan in the crowd; and Diplo came last, providing a blast of clubby energy for the glowstickers who stuck around after Sleigh Bells. The bill made sense in theory – a metal band, a DJ and a group that combines the best of both worlds – but in reality, it felt a little schizophrenic. Sleigh Bells, Diplo and Liturgy have mostly different fan bases, and as a result the main Ritz ballroom wasn’t entirely full all the time. Some folks just wanted to see one and just the other.
But for those who danced, it didn't matter too much. After all, everyone comes together at prom -- even the quiet kid in the Nirvana tee and the tattooed girl with the inky black hair.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*