House of Blues Anaheim
It was a colorful evening at the new House of Blues, in Anaheim. After an audience ranging from 20-somethings to 50-somethings cleared the metal detectors and vigorous pat-downs, some of them staked their claims at the front of the pit, which comprises most of the space at the venue, while others milled about, got drinks, and / or otherwise lounged in the expansive venue’s posh environs. Throughout the course of the evening, the venue (or at least the wing of it that was dedicated to the Sleigh Bells show) would reach around 50 percent of its 2,200 person capacity, which allowed for an enjoyable experience of the excellent entertainment.
At 8:30, a bass track started up. The bass was so powerful that the hair of those standing in front of the stage could be seen getting blown back by the intense sonic waves. Two veiled dancers marched slowly onto the stage and stood there, motionless, for a few moments until Tunde Olaniran, the opening artist, made his entrance. Olaniran’s presence alone was impressive, he’s a stout fellow with long braided hair, and he was wearing a multi-layered, silky, African-styled garment that would make Stevie Nicks jealous; but his impressive singing chops eclipsed his visual presence as he demonstrated in a 45-minute set of electronic / R&B music.
Throughout Olaniran’s set, his dancers (who had quickly shed their veils) provided eye candy with their creative and frenetic choreography, as Olaniran whipped his hair around danced about the stage. In between his personal songs, which enabled him to demonstrate his impressive singing range, Olaniran inspired the crowd to enjoy themselves, not worry about the judgement of others, and insisted that this was a safe environment; he also had banners draped over the stage amps, which included a list of the commandments: “NO ABLEISM. NO SHAMING. NO FATPHOBIA. NO FEMMEPHOBIA. NO RACISM. NO SEXISM.” One of the highlights of the set occurred during a sound gaffe. The playback track went screwy, but instead of losing his cool, like many performers would, Olaniran laughed it off and said, “We have technical difficulties at every show.” And although the playback consisted of impressively engineered (and catchy) music, Olaniran decided to finish the song a cappella, and it was beautiful.
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About a half hour after the opening act, the lights went out and the playback for Sleigh Bells began. Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss then entered and greeted the crowd from a darkened stage. As they began their set with “Unlimited Dark Paths” from their latest album, Jessica Rabbit, the performers were only visible intermittently in the flashes of the strobes. This trend continued for most of the show, with additional spots and lasers gradually joining in, but the strobes never ended. It is likely that this show would cause seizures in epileptics; however, the frantic lighting scheme does form a nice complement to the band’s music.
The 16-song setlist consisted mostly of a balance between songs from Jessica Rabbit and their debut LP, Treats. That being said, “Born to Lose” from Reign of Terror was one of the highlights. As it happens, this was the last show on their 25-stop tour of Europe and the U.S., but Krauss’s energy level was turned up to at least 11. She jumped and beamed throughout the show about how much fun she was having and how thankful she was to all of the Sleigh Bells fans who had supported them since the beginning — which was likely most of the house.
Krauss kept the audience rapt throughout the performance. At several times during the set, she wandered into the audience, whom she encouraged to sing along with her. Towards the end of the set, she invited Olaniran to sing a duet on the short ballad “Loyal For,” from Jessica Rabbit. And, for the closing number, “A/B Machines” from Treats, Olaniran, his dancers, and another friend or two joined Krauss and Miller to sing and dance to the tour’s conclusion.
From those who had come to hear Sleigh Bells perform highlights from their first album to those who had gotten hooked on Jessica Rabbit’s “I Can Only Stare,” the experience of seeing the final show on Sleigh Bells’ maiden tour since they started repping themselves was a joy balanced by the spirit of the two acts. Tunde Olaniran’s humble yet polished approach to showmanship was an unexpected charm, and the high-energy, hard-edge, and mystique of the Sleigh Bells show provided the total experience with the requisite dose of rock show trance.