Partially blinded, probably bleeding, definitely sweating and down some hearing ability were the patrons stumbling away from the Majestic Theatre this past Thursday night. Sleigh Bells, a Brooklyn-based noise rock duo and their opener AraabMuzik brought the pain, as promised, in the forms of volume and intense strobe lights.
A casual half an hour behind schedule, the very cool-looking AraabMuzik and his hype man DukeDaGod took the stage around 9:30 p.m. The so-called “hype man,” however, did little more than rock back and forth at the wings of the stage and occasionally offer and emphatic, “Oh!”
AraabMuzik, considered a master of the drum machine, certainly has impressive button pushing skills. His hands moved intricately and were at times even too fast to see. Yet the disjunction between fast button pushing and universally good music was obvious. His music offered up an unfortunate amount of the womps and laser beam sounds indicative of dubstep — a genre that should have phased out as quickly as it has phased in.
The skipping beats were at times so repetitive it seemed as though AraabMuzik may have gotten stuck in a muscular reflex rut, not consciously deciding to beat the same noise for a full 30 seconds. The strobe lights were indefinitely blinding, letting off a single lightning bolt pulse just as soon as one would dare look back up at the stage. The bass was chest-shaking, each notch up creating another ground swell from the crowd as they danced a little closer, got a little bit hotter and a little bit more violent. As the opener finished, there was a resounding energy about the crowd in the face of this dubstep sample hybrid.
In the following 40 minute break, roadies wheeled onto a dimly, red-lit stage eight Marshall amplifiers and stacked them into a wall, reminding everyone when Sleigh Bells took the stage, there would be no drummer needed to create a real loud factor. While setting up the amps and microphones, someone tuned a guitar with an unabashed camouflage paint job that seemed like it was only able to exist among dinosaur toys on the plushy white carpet of a rebellious suburban tween’s bedroom. The owner — the 30-year-old Derek Miller — came out unassumingly with his partner, Alexis Krauss, and their second guitar player, greeted by the cheers of the crowd.
Echoing chords broke the silence like a chainsaw. Come to think of it, the chords themselves sounded like a chainsaw too. As they played their first songs, Krauss showed her in-person and on-stage personas are astronomically different people. In a leather jacket, full arm of shining wristbands and a tank top stamped with the parental advisory warning, she stomped and screamed vivaciously at the crowd. She was so outwardly passionate it seems probable in another life she could have been a rapper. Instead she sang in a light, but piercing voice that was shockingly consistent considering how much she was whipping her hair and body around.
The strobes and the immense amount of noise slowly altered the environment itself to the point where consciousness was a hazy line — so much so that when Miller dove out onto the crowd nobody even realized, probably not even the people holding him up. When the paunchy Miller retook the stage, the duo high-fived like kids jumping a tree stump on their mountain bikes. The rambunctious crowd began moving and molding together in an almost profound way. The volume, used differently somehow than by AraabMuzik, had a very cohesive and uniting quality, perhaps unified by shared hearing loss. People were quite literally sharing sweat, tears and — in the case of an unsuccessfully avoided drunken elbow — blood, as well.
At the end of the show, the cold night air was sobering, literally and figuratively, leaving behind — but hopefully not forgetting — the memories of a truly great performance. The noise and light may have been abusive, but the combination was able to accomplish a sense of community previously unseen in a typically shovey crowd. Who knew such violence could elicit such a wholesome aftereffect