Sleigh Bells knows how to make an entrance. With Derek Miller heaving power chords out of his guitar like they were bricks and drummer Chris Maggio’s god-of-thunder whomp, “Minnie” kicked off Saturday's show at Royale with a bang — and that was before singer Alexis Krauss flew in from side stage wearing a boxing robe with her initials on the back. Here was a band determined to make an impact and relentless in hammering it home.
In fact, there were times when Sleigh Bells bordered on pure sonic assault; Krauss, no dummy, fiddled with her earplugs throughout the night (or maybe just kept confirming that they were still there). Miller and Ryan Primack did all they could to make sure their guitars had a physical presence, hard and forceful. Expanded for the stage from a duo (Krauss and Miller) to a four-piece, the band still didn’t have a bass, but Maggio’s cavernous drums seemed to have those lower frequencies covered.
But that’s just why Sleigh Bells’ sound was huge. What made it overpowering was that song’s shuddering, stop-start nature, as though Lenny Kravitz’s cover of “American Woman” was turned to 11, then turned 11 higher, then folded over on itself like origami. (Or, in the case of “Infinity Guitars,” like “We Will Rock You” falling down a stairway.) Collapsing drumbeats and brute-force guitar were such standard ingredients and so overpowering that Sleigh Bells almost became white noise by the end.
Sleigh Bells did have a few other tricks up its sleeve, however. “You Don’t Get Me Twice” stood out for its conventional structure, simply because of its mostly through-lined drums and guitars that switched from arpeggios to chords and back. The guitarists left the stage for “Kids,” which managed to be slinky with just drums, samples, and Krauss’s voice.
And closing number “A/B Machines” did something no other song did: It built tension. Miller and Primack quickly strummed their low E strings as Krauss repeated the two-line lyric like a mantra, then there was a moment when the whole band held back before slamming back in all at once. Sleigh Bells kept resetting and repeating the process, constantly winding and unwinding the song. And as it built as much energy as stun-power relentlessness, the crowd began leaping.
Montreal three-piece Doldrums opened with a ghostly, pulsing take on knob-twiddling electronic industrial music that gradually lost its appeal with each additional repetition.