The last time I saw Sleigh Bells, about a year and a half ago in Georgetown, I was elbowed in the face in the first two minutes of their set. My contact popped out and the rest of the night was literally a blur. One thing I remember clearly though, was the intensity, the same kind they brought to Stubb’s last night for a crowd of about a thousand.
The night opened with Doldrums, the experimental electronic act from Canada who have collaborated with Grimes, and they sounded pretty solid. I saw them a couple times at SXSW, where they entertained much smaller crowds, but last night they seemed a little lost. There’s a myth of sorts going around the Internet of disrespectful crowds in Austin who spend the whole time talking loudly with their friends or buried in their phones, and it kind of felt like that tonight. The band tried their best though, with the singer in a crazy looking polyester jacket yelling out “Austin” every few minutes to try and get the crowd hyped up, but they just couldn’t get the audience into the set.
The crowd itself was fairly diverse, leaning toward members in their 20s. They rushed the stage as soon as Doldrums finished, and then '80s pop started playing from the PA, reminding me how Derek Miller indicated their new album was influenced by those styles. Right before they came out, the PA played “Walk On The Wild Side” to honor the memory of the late Lou Reed, who had died earlier that morning. It was an emotional moment and a classy move by the band to take a minute to honor the legend.
The main set began with flashing lights and marching band music, before the band stormed the stage to “Minnie” off their latest record. Vocalist Alexis Krauss came out in a boxing robe, which she threw off as the band jumped into “Comeback Kid,” the first highlight of the night. The biggest change the band showed was the addition of its drummer, who added another dimension to the live aspect of their set. The band played a good mix of songs off its latest record, Bitter Rivals, but the ones that sounded best with the new drummer came from its 2012 record, Reign of Terror. Maybe the band was just more comfortable playing them, but tracks like “Demons” and “Born To Lose” sounded excellent in this environment. Newer tracks were solid, too, especially the title track and “You Don’t Get Me Twice."
The biggest hits came when they reached back to their first album, Treats. “Crown In The Ground” came midway and brought crushing momentum to their set that resonated for the rest of the night. They played a few older songs during their short set and closed it off with “Infinity Guitars,” one that had the crowd going nuts. The strongest quality of Sleigh Bells is the ferocity they bring to their live performances, and last night was no exception.
The band encored with two more new songs before launching into “A/B Machines,” which is easily its most thrilling song live. Pretty much everyone in the front half of the crowd was jumping nonstop as the band rocked out. Krauss jumped into the crowd during the last verse and everyone was having a great time. Sleigh Bells may have lightened up a bit on their latest record, but it was evident that they have not backed down an inch when it comes to their intense live shows.