Monday, May 16, 2011

CSS & Sleigh Bells at Webster Hall

Lately, I've been eager to see a band that I like that I hadn't seen live before. This sadly, is an ever-shrinking category for me. It's been a while since a band has toured that I was willing to pay money to see. So, naturally, when I heard CSS was co-headlining a show with Sleigh Bells, I jumped at the opportunity to swipe tickets. It proved more difficult than I had imagined. Turns out that A LOT of people like CSS & Sleigh Bells, and were far swifter at swiping tickets than I. Twenty dollar tickets quickly became fifty dollar tickets via stubhub, but I figured 50 clams for a sold out show featuring two bands (whose albums I actually enjoy) wasn't an entirely unfair price to pay- even if it WAS a show at Webster Hall.

I can't iterate enough my distaste for Webster Hall. They suck. The venue is disorganized, they keep lineups cryptic, the hall reeks of mold and stale beer, and, the sound there BLOWS. Did I mention it smells? Yeah? Ok. I don't care if it's an INSTITUTION, so was CBGBs, and they went the way of the Dodo because they were WAY past their prime. Webster Hall has been a lousy venue for a while now, and yet, bands keep playing there. I assume it's for some unknown financial reason, like the overhead is cheaper for moderately successful bands. That seems to be who plays there these days. Bands on the brink or bands that are big enough to sell out to a NY crowd, but not to a NJ crowd. Am I right? Ok, rant over. Now, on to what transpired.

Look! Instruments!
The crowd was a lot younger than I am accustomed to... although, I must admit, I think I am getting to that age where I will be the oldest person up front at any show, singing along and dancing. I am not a "go to a concert just to sit in the rear of the theater and drink" type, which inevitably puts me up front with the enthusiastic youngins. I don't mind, really, it's just, a little sad for me to accept that I am getting OLDER. The crowds enthusiasm was welcome though, despite my self-loathing agist phobias. The pre-show music they were blasting was a satisfyingly ecclectic mix of late 80's and early 90's music. TLC, Nirvana, Guns-n-Roses, and Van Halen were the more memorable tracks being blasted out, with myself and all the little ones screaming out the words, for the sad truth was that this would be the closest to hearing those bands live that we'd ever get.

CSS came out with a welcome BANG opening with the rocking tune "Art Bitch" -one of my favorite tracks on their debut album. From start to finish CSS got what being performers were all about. Even if you're not a huge fan of their work, seeing them live is an enjoyable experience. They play their instruments well, are sonically organized, their attitude is gracious, and well, they're fun as hell. The lead singer known only as Lovefoxx was a good front-woman for their act. She was high energy with pure enthusiasm and kept the audience on their toes. She jumped into the crowd, danced around, launched herself into a crowd surf, and she also successfully managed a handful of costume changes without ever leaving the stage! I've never seen a woman with so many layers of clothing on in my life. The energy on the stage was amplified by the smiling dancing bodies on the floor, which was literally buckling beneath us to the very beat of the music. They played a healthy mix of both albums, and a few choice new tracks from their forthcoming album. I had a lot of fun and found myself happy for paying to see them live.

Sleigh Bells

I wish I could say the same for Sleigh Bells. At first, I was along for the ride. They started the show by blasting Black Sabbath's "Iron Man", and while all the kids were screaming and thrashing I decided to do the same. It was fun and cathartic, but, as the show went on, I came to the realization that the rocking energy was coming from the crowd and NOT from Sleigh Bells. By the time I walked out of Webster Hall, I found myself mumbling, "I could'a stayed home, and just pressed play." The shift of talent was extreme. They were all gimmick and no substance. The wall of amps and the rack of guitars wheeled out during set up had given me a sense of hope. I knew that Sleigh Bells was only a 2-person operation, but, so's Death From Above 1979, and they fucking WAILED when I saw them open for Nine Inch Nails. So, it stood to reason that Sleigh Bells could wail too. I was sorely mistaken. Sadly, everything was a recording that they pumped through the speakers, and the girl Alexis Krauss, was barely doing what I would call singing.

The Elusive Guitarist Derek
As for the guitarist Derek Miller- I GUESS he was playing, but it didn't seem to matter, because the background track playing through was louder than he was. There was also a good chunk of time when Derek wasn't even on the stage- he wasn't bothering to PRETEND to play while Alexis "sang". At those moments, when Alexis was alone on the stage with a track playing steadily beneath her barely audible shaky vocals, it just appeared to be an overpriced karaoke performance. Once the spell of the crowd's enthusiasm dissipated I was ready to migrate to the back of the theater so I could have a speedy exit.

What happened next for me was fascinating. Every foot that I walked further away from the stage, the more shallow Sleigh Bells sound became. In the front where I was it was pure noise pop blasting through oversize speakers where I could barely hear the "live" guitar and vocals. It was infectious and fun to rock out to, sure, but it was VERY temporary. As I walked to the back the entirely pre-recorded music seemed to go mute, and all you could hear was Alexis' vocals... and they were weak. The kids at the show seemed to really enjoy Sleigh Bells and CSS. CSS I got, for sure, because they were musicians with a strong female lead. As for Sleigh Bells, as much as I enjoyed their studio album, I wanted more "oomph" out of them live than what I got, which left me feeling overwhelmingly disappointed.

"Singer" Alexis Krauss
Maybe I am just getting too old to "get" the appeal of a synthetic band that doesn't actually play the music they composed live. No thanks, Sleigh Bells. I'd give you a go if you bring out a BAND with you next time that could play the loud balls to the wall noise pop that your album brings.

CSS is who you should be paying money to see, because, ultimately, humans put on a better show than computers any day.    

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CSS/ Sleigh Bells Set List Sampling

In case you were curious, 
here's a rough list of what each band played:

Art Bitch
Off the Hook
Air Painter
Music is My Hot, Hot Sex
Let's Make Love (And Listen to Death from Above)
Let's Reggae All Night

Tell 'Em
Riot Rhythm
Infinity Guitars
Rill Rill
A/B Machines