Manchester has often been at the cutting edge of music and fashion.  It’s post industrial grit is now matched by a self-assured bohemian style that has a drive and an energy that’s hugely infectious.  This energy was enhanced and utilised by Brooklyn’s latest and hippest export: Sleigh Bells.

Anyone who read my earlier review of “Reign of Terror” will know that I’m a major fan of the Brooklyn duo but the seeing them live in Manchester was a delight.  After an hour long DJ set where lots of late eighties and early nineties pop blared out, Charlie XCX came out and did her warm up set to a largely enthusiastic audience

But the biggest cheer she got was when she asked the question “So are you guys looking forward to Sleigh Bells?”
Cue gales of cheers.

“You’ve got no idea, these guys are f***ing crazy” she said with a smile.

At around nine fifteen the lights began to flicker on stage and the crowd of about seven hundred people packed into a school gym style room drew its collective breath.  A drum beat began, akin to a march and the crowd began to clap to the beat.

And then Derek and Alexis took to the stage and the roof came off for the first time.  Their roles were as expected.  Derek took up a station where he could throw his guitar around and play with the various machines on stage.  Alexis was part cheerleader, part drill instructor.  She called to the crowd and drove them into a frenzy.

Too right we had no idea what crazy was!  Alexis, decked out in a black leather jacket, a loose fitting sleeveless white tee and short black shorts was electric all night long.  Derek was far more energetic than I expected and his swagger on stage was really something.  When he threw down the first notes of “True Shred Guitar” the audience began jumping and banging their heads.

In fact the atmosphere was nigh on riotous before too long.  Things calmed down for a split second when they shifted to “End of the Line”.  But when the familiar trill of “Kids” began, the crowd went crazy again.  People cheered and screamed for Alexis, who appeared to want a better shriek from the ladies in the crowd and she showed them how it was done.

The crowd jumped and cheered but no one in that high energy crowd was more animated than her.  Never stopping dancing, singing or interacting with her crowd, Alexis spent a huge amount of her time personally charming the members of the crowd, often singing down to the front rows of the crowd and often making eye contact as she went.

Her crowd interaction stepped up at one point as she called out “Manchester; carry me!”. She then fell off stage and was carried by the crowd, still singing.  As she was placed back on stage she giggled as someone appeared to tickle her.  Later on she dragged a girl onto stage to dance with her.  Then her closing stunt was to make a lucha-libre style dive off the stage at the end and be carried once again.  She’s truly fearless.

There was a huge amount of interaction.  Spots like being called on for the chorus and rhythmic claps.  Apart from to deliver backing vocals in “True Shred Guitar”, Derek didn’t say an audible word all night, adding to his aloof charm.

Songs from Reign of Terror out-numbered those from Treats, as expected whilst touring, but there were big cheers for “Rill Rill”, “A/B Machines” and then a truly epic response to the superb “Crown on the Ground”.

Songs from Reign were very well received and the constant chorus from the crowd seemed to indicate that most, if not all, of the small crowd had heard or owned the album.  The talk from the two guys behind me for much of the night was that they had loved Treats but that Reign of Terror was even better.

Songs from Reign were even louder and more intense live than expected, including the normally sweet and poppy “Comeback Kid” which had more of a growling punk burr than expected.

The sound levels were huge, the crowd bordered on the reverent and I firmly believe that when Alexis was calling out “And you will answer to no one else but me” the crowd were totally under her control at that point.

After the show had ended and the shock had begun to wear off, we wandered out of the hall down into an SU bar where to my amazement Alexis was now signing autographs, posing for photos and chatting with crowd.  I got to vaguely mumble a compliment about her and Derek being “my favourite hipsters” before getting an autograph and a hug.

They say you should never meet your heroes but in this case, they had more than lived up to expectations.  Sleigh Bells were pure magnetism on stage and while they are still on the cusp of stardom and one of the coolest acts around, I strongly advise you to go and see them.  If it can be somewhere that’s as cool as Manchester or Brooklyn, even better.

Richard Hart

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