Sometimes, it’s totally worth camping out in the rain and the cold three hours before the shows starts. Sometimes, it’s worth not bringing a jacket and shivering in a line so that you don’t have to pay for coat check and you can bust straight up to the front of the stage. Sometimes, it’s worth letting go of your chill, Seattleite dignity and losing your pride in the noise and light and confusion because you can’t help it. The Sleigh Bells show last Friday, February 24th, was one of those times.
Dead center and mashed up against the stage – that’s what three hours of waiting got me. The good people at Showbox at the Market were kind enough to remove the restraint bar from the front of stage so that this sold out show could press as far forward as possible. And as soon as Black Bananas finished their set and the stage transition began, everyone knew that was probably a good thing. The stage was set in the typical Sleigh Bells manner: literal stacks of Marshall speakers lining the back of the stage and behind those a massive American flag. No less than eight monitors line the front of the stage – it’s like a defensive bunker in a warzone. On the left is guitarist Derek Miller’s armada of pointy, pimped-out Jackson guitars, as well as an intimidating pedal board. On the right is a similar pedal board for touring second guitarist Jason Boyer, and in the center, placed about two feet away from my face, is a towering mic stand.
The lights go down and the crowd simultaneously starts to scream and surges forward. A marching snare is heard from the wall of speakers. Derek and Jason come on stage, guitars in hand as the intro track starts to build. Derek isn’t wearing his typical high school cool kid letterman jacket and sunglasses. Instead, he’s completely grunge, rocking a Nirvana “Silver” T-shirt and Eddie Vedder style red and black flannel. They quickly check the tuning of their strings and Derek nods to his left, off-stage. The roar of the crowd doubles as Alexis climbs the steps and grins out to the masses. Alexis Krauss is a sight to behold with a studded denim jean jacket, ripped pink t-shirt, charcoal Levi jean shorts, fishnets, and the Reign of Terror Keds (without the blood). No one can understand her introduction over the drums and the crowd, so she doesn’t even try. She backs up, grabs a quick drink of water, and counts off the first song, Reign of Terror opener, “True Shred Guitar”.
“Enemies, on your knees!” Alexis screams into the microphone. Standing on the a monitor leaning out over the crowd, she’s equal parts terrifying and captivating. But in either case, she’s all about the crowd, letting them sing just as much as her and interacting with them at every possible second. As they embark into “Born To Lose”, Derek is too. He’s head-banging and shredding on a camouflage Jackson inches away from fans, who occasionally duck lest they get hit in the face with his guitar.
As every song fades into another, the crowd gets crazier. The band is starting to delve into older Treats material and the head-banging is matched with dancing. It’s barely halfway through the set and people are starting to crowd surf up onto the stage to get a chance to dance with Alexis. Showbox staff builds up on both sides of the stage to grab those who overstay their welcome. The onset of crowd surfers piles into the line of monitors. More staff attempts to jump up on stage and fix everything, but the turnover is too fast. The stage setup begins to fall apart, but Derek and Alexis are loving it. A box of strawberry Pop Tarts (Alexis’s favorite food, as cited in the Reign of Terror liner notes) flies up onto the stage, narrowly missing Jason’s head. Derek rips open the box and throws them back to the crowd. “Pop Tart?” The guy next to me offers up a mashed piece of gooey, strawberry pastry. I turn him down and we keep head-banging.
Derek and Jason rip through the last riff of “Infinity Guitars” and file off stage as the opening bass drops of “Rill Rill” boom over the speakers. As the guitar track comes in, Alexis takes a breath and grins ear to ear. She dances to herself on stage as the whole crowd sings along. She finishes the first verse and comes up to the edge of the stage. “Is it my turn, yet?” she yells out. Everyone screams in agreement as she launches herself out into a crowd surf, microphone in hand. As the crowd passes her around, she sings the second verse and returns to the stage, gracefully.
Derek and Jason return for two more tracks – guitar-heavy Reign of Terror track “Demons” and all-time classic “Crown on the Ground”. Alexis waves and thanks the crowd and then they are gone, and after nearly an hour of a relentless sonic pummeling, I am in desperate need of water. The monitor setup is nearly destroyed, but the wall of Marshall speakers still stands tall, clouded by all the fog in the room and the sweat in my eyes. As the crowds starts dispersing, I begin to hear a ringing in my ears. Little do I know they will be ringing until about 1pm tomorrow.
See those three guys in the above picture? That one in the middle is me, losing my mind. Sleigh Bells are known by their live show, and now I know why.