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Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Bryce Rudow

It’s an interesting phenomenon when I can’t get any of my fellow music-loving friends to join me for a show that enough other people wanted to go to that it sold out. But that’s what happened last night with Sleigh Bells. I couldn’t believe none of them weren’t at least curious to see how this duo, who was THE buzz band in 2011, had aged over the past 3 years.

The answer to that question is pretty hard to articulate though, so I’m going to skip to my conclusion and backtrack from there…

Sleigh Bells should give up being a rock band.

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I’m not saying they should give up being a band or stop making music. I’m saying I think they should stop identifying themselves as a ROCK band who just happens to incorporate pop sensibilities into their songs. Because what they really are is a pop band through-and-through who just happens to mask itself in a rock persona.

Right now, they’re in a debilitating kind of limbo between the two genres. They’ve borrowed the worst parts of rock and the worst parts of pop and have stitched them together into a half-baked Frankenstein of sound.

From rock, they adopted the overblown sense of “rockstarness”, which definitely has its place, but the simple cocky power-chord riffs they flaunted last night reminded me more of seeing an 80’s hair metal band past its prime that modern day rock saviors — and someone’s got to tell the drummer he’s doing the drumstick twirl move a little too much (“But that’s really all he’s got…”).

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From pop, they incorporated the inherent cheesiness that comes with all saccharin pop music. I could feel an entire audience cringe when the song “Tiger Kit” ended with an emphatic, “Make like a banana and split.” But even still, this could be made to work with the right performance attached, but the intense cardio that comes with putting on a pop show left all of Alexis’ vocals feel a bit gasping. Someone should tell Alexis that this is why the real pop stars lip sync or use a backing track when they perform live…

So while there’s no denying that they hit it out of the park with the most assuredly rock and roll Treats, their progression as a band has been hindered by the fact that their “signature sound” is basically a one-trick pony. Reign of Terror sounded like a poor-man’s Treats because that’s what it was. Bitter Rivals sounds like a band that listened to Treats too much while trying to find their own sound because that’s what it was.

But there is hope.

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Outside of their early material (which was appreciated as well as it was delivered), the two best songs of the night were the sonic outliers “You Don’t Get Me Twice” and “Young Legends.” Both of these were tracks that Alexis specifically brought up when I spoke to her recently as “much more experimental.” And that experiment with 80’s/90’s R&B pop (see Janet Jackson: Rhythm Nation) was incredibly successful. Alexis consistently proved on stage that she has the vocal chops to be an actual singer, and when she’s given the chance to actually create melody as opposed to just vocal percussion, she really shines.

The big question is whether they’re able to suck up their pride and do it. We’re talking about a band whose legacy is one of defiance and rebellion. But deep down, didn’t we all know that they were all bark and no bite? Honestly, aren’t they as threatening as say Pink (who actually has found a way to incorporate a rock attitude into pop music)?

If they really do believe in defiance and rebellion they should make the difficult decision and forsake their easy, boring signature sound in order to play to actual strengths.

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At one point during the encore, Alexis stood up against the barrier at the edge of a crowd going ballistic for “A/B Machines.” As she extended cautiously towards outstretched fans’ hands, I saw her hesitantly ponder whether or not she should actually stage dive into the maddening crowd begging her to join them.

It was an awkward few seconds, but when she finally sucked it up and took the plunge, she looked like she had never been happier…

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