Sleigh Bells @ The Metro Theatre, Sydney (19/01/13)

Sleigh Bells’s singer Alexis Krauss seems genuinely concerned about the response at the Metro Theatre when she asks the crowd if anyone had seen her performance at the Big Day Out the day before: “You guys came to see us twice? That’s bad for your hearing … and bad for your eyesight!”

The concern is warranted: Sleigh Bells’ live experience is a full-on sensory assault. Behind Krauss, guitarist Derek Miller and additional touring guitarist Jason Boyer sits not a traditional rhythm section but a stack of 12 Marshall amps from which pre-recorded machine-gun beats explode at ear splitting volume. On top of the Marshall amp stack is a line of strobe lights that appear to exist in order to blind and disorientate the crowd. It’s less a backline, more a front line in the band’s reign of terror. It’s very, very loud and utterly relentless.

Opening act DZ Deathrays – generally regarded as a fairly formidable live act – had done little to prepare us for Sleigh Bells. They felt like a gentle appetizer by comparison, never really engaging a crowd that was still drifting into the building throughout their set, and certainly not generating the response that greeted Sleigh Bells the moment Krauss and her bandmates took to the stage.

Krauss is an extraordinary frontwoman: a tiny ball of energy, singing with venomous intent while flailing wildly, and at one point, diving into (and nearly getting dropped by) the crowd. Her accompanying guitarists stay well out of the spotlight, meaning the show feels more like a solo show than a “band” performance.

Tonight’s setlist is much the same as Sleigh Bells have been playing at all their shows for the last 12 months, made up of slightly more songs from their debut Treats than last year’s Reign Of Terror. It’s hard to vary your set when much of your backing is pre-recorded. There are only a few moments of respite throughout the barrage of noise, one of the more enjoyable coming as Reign Of Terror album highlight ‘Born To Lose’ starts with a slow a cappella, giving us a moment to reflect on the strength of Krauss’ voice – at once raw and melodic. When the pulsating drum pattern and screaming guitars finally kick in half way through the room erupts once again.

The hour-long set, despite its intensity, feels like it’s over all too soon. But Sleigh Bells don’t take their time: “This is our last tour for Reign Of Terror ” says Krauss with her parting words. “We’ll go home, go back in the studio and we make another record.” That hardly gives us chance for our ears to stop ringing.