It’s hard to believe it’s been over 10 years since Sleigh Bells took the noise-pop world by storm with their debut album Treats. They certainly have a formula for success, combining thrashy guitars, pounding electronic beats and sugary-sweet vocal hooks, but even over the course of 11 years and five albums, it’s never become stale or predictable. After an extended break from touring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they played at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles last week. It was clear that Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss have been itching to take the stage, bringing a cache of explosively catchy songs and the sort of stage energy that would make James Brown proud.
Opening up the night was a rising Los Angeles punk band called Kills Birds, led by their enigmatic and captivating lead singer Nina Ljeti. The four-piece was playing its first hometown show in over a year; it was an impressive homecoming and no surprise that they’ve caught the attention of industry icons like Kim Gordon and Hayley Williams. Oh yeah, they also recorded their sophomore album Married at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606 and will be opening a pair of dates in Mexico City for the Foo Fighters. With their new album coming out in just a few weeks, it’s no surprise that the bulk of the set was from that record. The set really started to heat up with the second song, “Cough Up Cherries,” which also happens to be the newest single from the album. Ljeti has great stage chemistry with the band’s guitarist Jacob Loeb, and together, the two created a perfectly calibrated cacophony that incorporated elements of post-punk, riot grrrl, grunge and even space rock. Other highlights of the set included the moody alt-rock track “Glisten” and the short-but-sweet hardcore rager “Rabbit,” both previously-released singles from Married, along with “Volcano” from their first LP. Keep your eyes and ears on this band because they appear to have huge things coming in their future.
Sleigh Bells took the stage to the piping synths of “Justine Go Genesis” from their latest album Texis. It’s been the opening number for most of their recent tour dates, and with good reason. The nervous energy of the synths built anticipation as the members of the live band took the stage, with Krauss and Miller each erupting onto the stage at the exact moment the distorted guitar riff kicked in. Watching a Sleigh Bells show is like a two-for-one deal—Miller clearly channeled his hardcore roots by pumping his fist in the air between riffs, while Krauss’ performance mirrored more of a pop or EDM show, bouncing around the stage and belting out irresistible sing-along pop hooks.
Next, they took things all the way back to Treats with “Riot Rhythm.” If some of the older fans of the band weren’t quite as familiar with their new material, this was their chance to jump into the groove. Then it was back to Texis for the riffy “Tennessee Tips”— the performance was great, but unfortunately, this particular song doesn’t quite measure up to the strongest tracks in their repertoire. “Demons” was arena-ready metal madness while “Kids” saw Miller leave the stage and Krauss go full pop star as she belted out one of the most memorable songs from Treats.
“I Can Only Stare” is the emotional stand-out track from Jessica Rabbit, and while the audience was captivated, it lacked some of the earlier energy songs like “Riot Rhythm” provided. Luckily, that lull was snapped quickly with the iconic opening riff of “Infinity Guitars.” The audience went absolutely nuts; fists were pumped in the air, and people were dancing wildly along with the stomp-clap beat of the verse.
While it’s hard to argue with the notion that the most well-received performances were from the band’s earlier output, “Locust Laced” is one of the best songs the duo have written. It took the formula of metallic guitar riffs and pounding electronic beats and gave it a fresh makeover; the crowd was screaming along the chorus line, “I feel like dynamite/ I feel like dying tonight.” “SWEET75” was another highlight from Texis; it twisted in some dream-pop elements without abandoning their heavier side. The set proper closed out with another one of the band’s most beloved tracks, “Rill Rill,” and you know the entire audience was singing along with the cheeky lyrics. The night closed out with a two-song encore featuring “And Saints” and “Crown on the Ground.” It was a distinct and effective choice to save what’s arguably their most energetic song for the set finale, leaving the audience exhilarated as the house lights came on and they streamed out onto 7th Street.
Justine Go Genesis
Rule Number One
I Can Only Stare
I’m Not Down
Crown on the Ground
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat