The power trio is a familiar rock band trope, dating back to the days of Baker, Bruce & Clapton but didn’t ya hear, we’re in a RECESSION, which means cut backs. Besides, who needs a dude to just stand around and play bass? That’s what pedals and other assorted machines are for.
A couple weeks ago I caught a pair of dynamic duo’s in Baltimore at the Ottobar – Sleigh Bells & Po Po, and both took different routes to the melting of the face, but arrived with fire and impeccable technique. Po Po is a pair of brothers, Shoaib & Zeb (apparently there is a 3rd Po Po Bro, Hassan, but he only joined for a single song of their Philadelphia set) who play guitar & drums, or guitar & guitar, and grew up not too far from myself, stylistically and geographically, in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.
Speaking with Shoaib after the show, it became clear we had other things in common, but I’ll spare you the autobiographical details and just present this line from their bio at RCRD LBL, “They like to get loud and eat pizza with their best buds.” Indeed, they were loud, but it was the kind of lo-fi loud that makes distorted vocals nestle safely between reverbed guitars and crackling snares – two brothers standing side by side, wild, and still restrained, never careening out of control, head banging in solidarity.
Sleigh Bells, on the other hand, are like a mechanical bull trying to buck the crowd. Their album, recently released on purple & pink swirled vinyl picture disc (!) is dominated by Alexis Krauss’ vocal harmonies, with intentionally lo-fi beats and post hardcore riffs from Derek Miller providing an energetic backdrop. Live, the roles were reversed a bit, as Krauss wasn’t able to fill up the empty spaces with her somewhat thin voice. Instead Miller’s riffs, and the blown out drum machine rattle carried her shout/sung choruses while she made up for it by prowling the stage and climbing on top of speaker cabinets.
Sleigh Bells definitely know how to put on a show, but it was Glass Candy that outshone them both at the Philadelphia gig, a weekly night called Making Time hosted at rotating bars. Yet another duo, this pair have been around for a long time, but have only recently began accumulating adoring press to match their retro Italo disco cred. In sort of a cross between Po Po’s relative stoicism and Sleigh Bells’ amped up antics, Johnny Jewel manned the synthesizers with the perfect amount of sleaze, while vocalist Ida No seduced the crowd as dusk fell over the pools and (absolutely disgusting) 84 oz fishbowl margaritas everyone seemed to be lapping up. No’s lusty screams made her seem like Debbie Harry’s disturbed brunette sister, and her deliberate 80’s dance moves fit the moodiness of Jewel’s layered electronics like a pre-washed v-neck from American Apparel.
So yeah, maybe two isn’t the new three (we’ve heard this refrain before, cough White Stripes cough) but these bands certainly give you an off the charts bang per member ratio, and better yet, they’re all still on the road.