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Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear Play Sandy Benefit

Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells
Warp Records / Mom+Pop Records

A benefit for Hurricane Sandy at Terminal 5 in New York City last night brought together four bands — Cults, the Antlers, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells — from all corners of indie rock, from the weepy to the loud. Even with the pall of the Connecticut school shootings cast over the concert, it turned out to be a powerful mix. Organizers announced several times that the sold-out show had raised more than $300,000, all going to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which continues to rebuild parts of the city devastated by Hurricane Sandy in October.

Like that other Hurricane Sandy benefit, last night’s show united a few disparate fronts in the realm of indie music. Unlike that other show, it was a compact affair, with each band playing a shortened set, condensed to only the essentials.

Cults turned in a fairly standard show, featuring a few cuts off their self-titled debut album. It was essentially impossible for the foot-stomper ‘Go Outside’ not to raise the energy level; the rest of the hipster doo-wop tunes off ‘Cults’ are so good, it really doesn’t matter in which context you hear them. Still, the audience was a bit disinterested, and the sound was a little off.

The Antlers’ set also felt dwarfed a bit by the venue. With the layers of detail in their songs mostly absent, they were left to ride on the strength of Peter Silberman’s falsetto and washes of guitar and keys. Pretty as those sounds are, they didn’t carry the band to transcendence the way they do when filtered through a great pair of noise-canceling headphones.

Their short set leaned mostly on 2011′s ‘Burst Apart,’ but the highlight was ‘Epilogue,’ the violent climax of 2009′s ‘Hospice.’ Given yesterday’s tragic news — and the band’s refusal to let the song end — it was a bit unsettling.

Grizzly Bear’s short set mined their more recent catalog, dutifully marching through ‘Sleeping Ute’ and ‘Yet Again’ from the new ‘Shields,’ before turning to 2009′s ‘Veckatimest,’ playing each of that album’s singles. During  ’While You Wait for the Others,’ Daniel Rossen made every note from his guitar sound like it weighed seven tons. Still, the band was practiced and perfect as they executed their intricate songs onstage.

After the longest set break in history, during which a lot of attendees left for home, Sleigh Bells, appearing before a wall of amplifiers, played a full (and very loud) set. They started by ripping into ‘Demons’ from ‘Reign of Terror’ as Alexis Krauss, wearing a black leather jacket and looking like Joan Jett, screamed into the microphone with her feet kicking into the air. She proved last night that she may be the most bad-ass frontwoman working today.

Sleigh Bells’ two guitar players — including Krauss’ creative partner Derek Edward Miller — played ’80s-style dive-bomber noise, barreling through riff after riff as the pre-programmed beats helicoptered behind them and seizure-inducing lights flashed onstage. Near the end of their set, after a truly historic take on ‘Tell ‘Em,’ Krauss leaned back into the audience and let them carry her for awhile.

As far as endings go, it worked pretty well.

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