Tuesday 15 February 2011

Sleigh Bells, Teeth!!! and MEN at Heaven - 14 February 2011

Sleigh Bells pic by Joe McCabe

It’s Valentine’s Day, so naturally I’m spending time with my loved ones. In this case, three electro/noise bands playing under the arches at Charing Cross.

This venue is more famous in its other guise as a gay club. So it is somewhat fitting that the first act of the night is MEN.

This three piece play militant electro disco and showcase the wiry feisty JD Samson, who is probably better known for her role in the much missed Le Tigre, a band who were pretty well untouchable in this genre.

The spectre of Samson’s previous band hangs heavy this evening and it makes me wonder if it might have been a smarter move to strike out for completely different pastures.

Songs such as ‘Off Our Backs’ and ‘Credit Card Babies’ are good booty-shaking stuff but I find myself distracted by what is not here rather than what is. I miss Kathleen Hanna’s stridency – which is not fair on MEN, who deserve to succeed on their own terms and are an energetic and welcome start to the evening.

The last time I saw Teeth!!!, singer Veronica So was being paraded at shoulder height around a tent at the Offset Festival.

Tonight, in the dark confines of this venue, with its incessant strobe lighting and industrial décor, the vibe is more like the vampire night club scenes in the first Blade movie. It suits Teeth!!! down to the ground.

Teeth!!! make a cacophonous racket, with So screaming over a drummer and a succession of programmed beats that sound as if they have been sampled from some vast machine that is malfunctioning and chewing itself to bits.

So jumps up and down and throws herself about and it’s all good rowdy fun. However, there is a sense of conflict within the band as they are clearly torn between going full out on the noise front and aspiring to something more melodic and (dare I say it) mainstream.

This is best exemplified by the bands’ last song, which they describe as a ‘remix’ and which is a lengthy, rather dreary house number that is out of keeping with their fiercer ( and to my ears at least - better) stuff.

Sleigh Bells headline tonight and bring the noise big style, starting with the apocalyptic double-punch of ‘Infinity Guitars’ and ‘A/B Machines’.

It’s a ridiculously reductive concept – Derek Miller slashes at a guitar that has been amped up way past eleven, whilst Alexis Kraus jumps up and down and works the crowd into a frenzy. The songs are propelled by pre-recorded beats that detonate like grenades.

It’s an impressive performance, but necessarily limited in scope. However, to criticise Sleigh Bells for being repetitive is like being surprised that a goldfish only swims one way around its bowl – it doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

The only real change of tempo in the set comes with the track ‘Rill Rill’, where the punishing percussion is turned off to allow Krauss to cajole the crowd to accompany her. This is but a brief respite before ‘Tell ‘em’ thunders out like a twenty one gun salute.

This is a short set that finishes with ‘Crown on the Ground’ and sees Krauss flinging herself off the stage into the throng below. The silence after they stop is almost louder than what has gone before.

It’s been an enjoyable evening, even if I have slight reservations about each of the bands. Some people are spending Valentine’s Day with a box of chocolates and a single red rose – I prefer a heaving throng and a pair of ringing ears.

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