Review: Sleigh Bells, CSS crush the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
Standing in line outside the sold-out State Theatre Friday night, I heard a woman behind me say the following:
“I told people I was going deaf tonight. If I go home and I can still hear, I’ll be a laughingstock.”
Such is the awesome reputation of Sleigh Bells, a Brooklyn duo who specialize in B-boy beats, sugary pop hooks and brain-grinding metal riffs. Everyone in line wanted to see if singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller could replicate the perfect destructive noise of their debut album, Treats, in concert.
What they got was a massive, powerful, occasionally weird, nonstop blitz of lights, sound and sweat. Not to go all Stefon on you, but this concert had everything: Crowd-surfing frontwomen, painted-up moshpit chicks, a hipster fight on the dancefloor, a wall of speakers spewing ear-splitting decibels … it was great.
Unlike the woman in line, I didn’t actually want to go deaf; I kept a pair of earplugs in my pocket in case things got too unbearable.
But the truth is, once Sleigh Bells took the stage, I never needed them. I wanted to relish every neuron-killing note in all its glory.
In retrospect, there was no way Sleigh Bells could have lived up to the loudness everyone was craving. They’re not really a metal band; they just play one on pitchfork.tv. I’ve been to much louder concerts.
But I haven’t been to many that were much more straight-up fun.
After some questions about their set time – at one point the State Theatre’s website said tour co-headliner CSS would be closing this show, which ended up not being the case – the stage was cleared, save for two mic stands and an ominous wall of lights and Marshall amps. Miller and Krauss came onstage to the heaviest pop song on earth – Black Sabbath’s Iron Man – before ripping into Crown on the Ground and Tell ‘Em.
Rendered into mere shapes thanks to the flashing lights behind them, Krauss and Miller marched and stomped and danced and spun around the stage like kids with the basement to themselves.
This, I think, is part of the appeal of Sleigh Bells’ music – on every song, Miller sounds like a teenager who just got his first electric guitar, and all he wants to do is crank it up to 11. It’s the aural equivalent of Ricky Bobby saying I wanna go fast.
And for all the attention Krauss earned throughout the night – and she was fantastic, climbing the State’s speaker towers, leaping into the crowd, whipping her water-soaked hair above the audience – Miller’s guitar was the best part of the show. There were moments when Krauss was alone onstage, singing to a backing track (i.e., Rill Rill), which made this concert feel, more than anything, like a hip-hop show. But these moments helped set the stage for Miller’s next gigantic riff. Sleigh Bells is all about building to a climax, and on songs like Infinity Guitars, Kids and Straight A’s, they did just that.
The only problem with their set? How short it was. Miller and Krauss couldn’t have been onstage for 45 minutes. This couldn’t have come as a surprise, really – the band only has one album, and it’s 32 minutes long – but some fans seemed bewildered by it. Still, you have to give Sleigh Bells credit – no matter how long they were onstage, they owned it. Fans were thrashing, pumping fists, stage-diving and dancing the whole time.
Before Sleigh Bells took the stage, Brazilian dance-rock sextet CSS (Cansei de Ser Sexy) got off to an uneven start, though they built up energy throughout the show. Singer Lovefoxxx did her best to whip up the crowd, but it wasn’t until a few songs in, when they played Music Is My Hot Hot Sex and Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above, that the crowd fully bought into their dance party.
CSS was about as good as you can get at looking extremely cool and laid back while still playing hot disco punk. Lovefoxxx worked the front of the crowd all night, even jumping in at one point, but it wasn’t until guitarist/keyboardists Ana Rezende and Carolina Parra started grooving along that the crowd was totally buying it. In the end, it all paid off. The group came off like a hybrid of the Go-Go’s, Blondie and Sleater Kinney, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
(Incidentally, Lovefoxxx made the night’s only reference to the royal wedding: “I wanted to watch that with Kathy Griffin,” she said, “but it was way too early. F--- that s---.” Indeed!)
Psychedelic space cadet Bosco Delrey opened the show with a trippy, loopy set of danceable weirdness, played mostly solo with backing tracks. Looking (and sounding) like some combination of Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and MGMT, it was a weird, hot, psychedelic mess. After setting up the last song, Delrey looked offstage, saw he was out of time, and quickly said: “I’m not gonna play anymore songs. Good night. Thank you.” And then he left. Odd.
I don’t know if anyone left the State Theatre deaf on Friday. But they got their money’s worth of a show, tha’ts for sure. Metal, dance-rock and trippy psychedelic weirdness: Good times in the ’Burg.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
SLEIGH BELLS SETLIST
Iron Man (Black Sabbath)
Crown On the Ground