But it was all worth it, because Sleigh Bells' thunderous return to St. Louis on Sunday night at the Pageant was rightly met with adulation (and a devil horns headband tossed onto the stage).
Sleigh Bells' stage aesthetic is driven by its purpose: to play earsplitting hardcore guitar with an equally booming backing track. Enter the two 20-foot stacks of Marshalls, which were not just there for decoration, as several at the bar were speculating. Following opening act AraabMuzik, a DJ with formidable technical skills (actually scratching records instead of mashing playlists), Sleigh Bells' guitarist Derek Miller, plus one, and his sugary-voiced singer Alexis Krauss triumphantly took the stage amid the crush of "Demons."
The momentum kept going with "Crown on the Ground" and "True Shred Guitar," essentially odes to thrashing, banging and stomping as hard as you can. Krauss wriggled out of her spiked leather jacket, skipping back and forth across the stage much like a deranged ex-cheerleader, as Miller and his touring guitarist stalked from side to side ripping as much sound as humanly possible from their instruments. Krauss dedicated the crowd favorite "Comeback Kid" to those of us who saw Sleigh Bells in Columbia, Mo. a few months ago, and those who stuck with the band after they blew the sound system early in a set at the Firebird in 2010.
While the Pageant is clearly better equipped to handle the Sleigh Bells' sonic tour de force, there was a certain intimacy that was lost on that big stage. Part of Sleigh Bells' appeal is the connection with the audience: The band is enjoying the show as much as its fans, and onstage Krauss frequently calls to or singles out members of the crowd.
During "Rill Rill" she crowd surfed as a stagehand anxiously hovered onstage, untwisting her microphone cord and helping her back to the stage almost as quickly as she'd left it. Then, because they had started late and needed to make curfew, they skipped the break and delved headfirst into an encore that included "Never Say Die" and "A/B Machines."
Behind-the-scenes confusion there may have been, but the rhythmic crunch and energy of a Sleigh Bells show is hard to top. Most songs clock in at three minutes or under, lending a frenzied, drive-by feeling to its live performances: the shows are over before you know what's hit you.
At the Pageant, the exuberance of the crowd was matched riff for riff by Krauss's own exuberance, swirling of hair and pumping of fists. The machine-gun staccato style of "Treats" was followed by anthemic hand-clappers like "Infinity Guitars," all backed by simple (but LOUD) pre-recorded R&B beats. It's a mashup of old and new ways of doing music -- with a metal influence (Miller used to play in the hardcore band Poison the Well). Everyone's a critic of iPod-assisted creativity, including the guy who served me beer across the street before the show. Undoubtedly there are some who get it wrong. But Sleigh Bells gets it very, very right. It's straight-up party music that will make your ears bleed. What more could you ask of a live show?
Well, maybe a token from the sexy frontwoman. At the end of show closer "A/B Machines," Krauss tossed her shoes into the crowd and fell to the floor, kicking her fish-netted legs high into the air. "Sorry to whoever got my stinky ass shoes!" she called out, blowing kisses as she left the stage.
I will not speculate what became of her footwear in case there are minors reading this, but I'm sure those stinky ass shoes made someone's night.
Set list (I think this is right, but corrections are welcome!):
Crown on the Ground
True Shred Guitar
End of the Line
Born to Lose
You Lost Me
Leader of the Pack
Never Say Die