When we turned up at The End around 9:30 Sunday night, there was a line bending around the side of the building and up the alley. "Is that the line to get in?" we asked newly minted ’90s-nostalgia DJ Janet Timmons. "That's the line of people hoping for some chance to get in," she said. We hope none of them got struck by lightning, because a hard rain was about to fall.
As promised, things got going around 10 p.m. Two-piece Nerve City were up first, and told us they were "from New York and broke as hell." We usually use the term "surfy" when the guitar has that bright, wiry tone surrounded by layer upon layer of reverb, so we're going with "surfy." You know how some bands do the just-guitar-and-drums thing, and you think to yourself, "Who needs bass, really?" This was not one of those bands. Nerve City certainly weren't bad, but in the grand scheme of bands where the plan is two dudes, three chords and about six ideas, they weren't terribly impressive, either — though it was cool how every few songs had the idea of "Paint It Black" hovering in the background.
By the time Nerve City finished, it was raining balls outside, and people were hesitant to attempt the smoke-and-soak. The place was getting steamy and tight in a hurry. A group of bros braved the downpour, and came back in smelling like a pack of dogs that had just rolled around in wet marijuana. They seemed proud of themselves. With personal space at a premium, we pressed up against the venue's outer wall, which, incidentally, we could feel move away from us every time the door opened, and back in when the door closed, as if the room were a big, clunky lung, exhaling a few people at a time, then sucking them right back in.
The second band of the evening was called Po Po, another duo. The singer's shirt said "Slum Dog," but he was really more of a Hipster Puppy. He seemed to be trying his level best to look like he was really bored in the background of a Thompson Twins video that was shot right after the cocaine ran out. And hey, some singers sing in a fake British accent because they want to seem sophisticated, and some singers sing in a fake retarded accent because, well, living in New York does that to people, we guess. A song called "Kill Tonight" seemed promising until it ended with a bunch of pretend-retarded moaning. But then — then! — the two dudes switched instruments, and instantly became 100 times better. Let the shorter guy play guitar, even though he wears a stupid vest. That is our advice.
And then came the point where the evening got really awesome for us and really not awesome for this one guy. As everyone stood around restlessly preparing to lose their fucking shit the second Sleigh Bells hit the stage, and the front of the club filled with smoke, and every inch of the place was occupied by too-close-together human beings, a short fellow in a black tank-top a few feet in front of us was chugging from a flask and getting ready to flail drunkenly into everyone around him, which everyone around him would not particularly care for. More on that in a minute.
After the smoke had built to a good density (although still pretty thin by Sunn O))) standards), the bells started. More like hell's bells than sleigh bells, but bells nonetheless. Then came a sample of the intro riff to Slayer's "South of Heaven" as guitarist Derek Miller stood in the murky dark. And then, at long last, came Alexis Krauss, charging onto the stage — a collective scream cresting in the rafters as she pumped her fist in the air — and the strobe lights mimicking the lightning outside, and the rapid-fire kick drum and power-drill electronics of album-opener "Tell ’Em," and everyone in the place going utterly, completely ape shit.
That, of course, includes little drunk guy in front of us, who is making enemies faster than The Spin at a Kings of Leon afterparty, charging and falling into people, at least three of whom are ready to punch his lights out before the second song is over. ("Infinity Guitars," which is awesome.) Eventually, Security Dude (who looks a lot like slugger Jim Thome) notices when one unhappy gentleman shoves the little guy off him. So Security Dude rushes over, throws little tank-top guy against he wall, and puts his hand in pushy guy's face while yelling at him. Pushy guy seems convinced. A few minutes later, Security Dude, who is huge, has had enough, and grabs little tank-top guy and wrestles him to the ground — though from our vantage point, it also looks like maybe he just swallowed him whole. People around us seem relieved that the party can continue.
At this point, Sleigh Bells are basically destroying the place. If Krauss can come off kind of sweet and breathy on record, she's a screaming, hair-whipping storm of energy and charisma in the flesh, all the while keeping her voice under enough control to go from the shouty parts — "Cowboys! Indians!" — to the smooth-edged ah-ah-ahs that are one of the band's trademarks. The other trademarks, of course, are gigantic-sounding everything, and this show was massive, for sure. We kept thinking they might try out some new songs on us, but then we remembered that their album basically is all new songs. We were getting into the Funkadelic-sampling "Rill Rill" when Security Dude came barreling through the crowd — little tank-top guy had snuck back in. We're not saying Security Dude didn't have the authority to act righteously forceful, but grabbing someone half your size by the throat in order to kick them out of a rock show seems, um, excessive.
Anyway, did we mention Sleigh Bells treated us to a deliriously wild performance that made The End feel like the underside of a rocket ship? They did. After the obligatory "goodbye, we're back," they closed with an extended rendition of "Crown on the Ground" that felt all kinds of cathartic. "I don't know if I got fucked or baptized," a young woman said outside after the show. We didn't know, either, but we sure felt good.