Alexis Krauss should be the pride and joy of anyone who missed the birth of the original riot grrrls and, feeling like a guilty parent, wants a second chance to see what their offspring sprung.
The former member of RubyBlue, an early 2000s quartet of teen pop queens, went on to study political science in college and became a fourth grade schoolteacher in the South Bronx. Now Krauss must feel a little like Brooklyn's born-again believer as lead singer and magnetic force behind Sleigh Bells, the double-barreled act that blasted onto the indie scene in 2009.
As the amped-up frontwoman of a group that defies definition, Krauss (left) owned the stage for 50-some minutes on April 21 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, displaying a punk sensibility, if not the pedigree.
She's certainly more than 6 degrees separated from riot grrrl progenitor Kathleen Hanna, but their determination and sheer commitment to the cause, whatever it was, is or will be, seems to form a common bond.
Playing on a sleepy Monday in between Colorado's 4/20 smoke break and Earth Day in cannabis country's co-capital with stacks of Marshall amps towering behind them, Krauss, Sleigh Bells co-founder, co-writer and thrash-and-burn guitarist Derek Miller (right) and their two touring band members were anything but mellow.
Introduced by what sounded like the rat-a-tat pulsations of a hardcore drum and bugle corps, Sleigh Bells steamrolled through their set in three-minutes-and-a-cloud-of-dust segments.
Possessed with the raw energy, booming beats and speed freak moves of in-your-face punkers (only without the truculence), Sleigh Bells wowed a crowd in the two-thirds-filled house with 15 songs, including seven off their most recent album, 2013's Bitter Rivals.
Krauss, revealing an ink sketch of Our Lady of Guadalupe that runs down her right arm, is like the Tattooed Lady with a heart of gold that a frat boy (or sorority girl) can feel comfortable bringing home to mom. Just as long as the family doesn't mind welcoming a relentless, fist-pumping headbanger sporting black bangs, black leather and fishnet stockings who casually drops a few F-bombs in concert.
"Oh man, you guys, seriously. So much fucking love for a Monday night. I'm overwhelmed," Krauss gushed between deep breaths following "Riot Rhythm," the rowdy anthem with piercing riffs that illuminated Treats, their 2010 debut album.
Obviously connecting to an audience that worshipped every move she made, Krauss never let up on the gas, playing to the significantly smaller crowd with as much fervor as she probably presented two days earlier at Coachella.
Her basic message, delivered midway through "Comeback Kid," the set's second song from their frothier second album, 2012's Reign of Terror, was simple: "Dance with me." For the remaining 45 minutes, that they did, celebrating joyously minus the senseless mosh-pit violence.
There were the playful lyrics of "Tiger Kit" -- Never trust a tiger that can't be tamed/So make like a banana and split -- followed by Treats' "Crown on the Ground" and the explosive hooks of "Bitter Rivals."
The rollicking title cut should be the theme song for Orange Is The New Black, with the repetitious line -- You are my bitter rival/But I need you for survival -- providing the perfect slogan for a show about dysfunctional women in prison. And the melody was just as infectious as Krauss' effervescent personality. She also doesn't take herself too seriously, as a liner note in Reign of Terror attests: ALEXIS KRAUSS EXCLUSIVELY EATS STRAWBERRY POP TARTS
Making direct eye contact with a group that two hours earlier had pressed up against the stage as soon as the doors opened, she said, "I definitely recognize a lot of familiar faces ... that have been with us since our first show in Denver ... and then back when we were in Boulder for Reign of Terror. So you, you've been to every fucking show. Can't miss you with that fucking hair."
A bright smile and hearty laugh followed, then it was back to business.
The thunderous bass, pounding drums and screeching guitars would occasionally drown out Krauss' pop-infused voice, but she made up for it with shouts, shrieks, squeals and screams of her own.
The finesse also was there, though, on Bitter Rivals songs such as "Young Legends" and "Love Sick," the closest they come to a pretty ballad -- until the sizzling solo by Miller, who coordinated his matching camouflage garb with a tiger-striped Jackson guitar.
Krauss even offered her best off-the-cuff Beyonce imitation -- singing "I woke up like this" -- during a shout-out to a fan (above right) wearing those words from "Flawless" on "the best shirt in the house."
Following the rap rhapsody of "Infinity Guitars," they returned for a three-song encore ("Did you really think that was all?" Krauss purred) that flashed before your eyes.
Looking like a prizefighter ready to answer the bell, she displayed her initials on the back of a hooded, custom-made (for the "Bitter Rivals" video) leopard-skin robe she wore during "Young Legends," then removed for "Single Like a Wire."
That Bitter Rivals showpiece soared even before she dropped into the audience for a second visit, this time circling the venue like a high-fiving athlete offering a final farewell.
Not that Sleigh Bells will be going away any time soon. Krauss actually bent over backward for the audience during the final notes of "A/B Machines," leaving with, "We fucking love you guys so much. Seriously. Incredible energy. We are so fucking grateful. And we promise we'll be back sometime soon."
Even if the show didn't last as long as an episode of 24, it was impossible not to get wrapped up in this whirlwind storm of stamina that takes primitive punk and electro-hip-pop to an eardrum-splitting level with mash-ups of sounds and genres. It's not for the meek or weak of heart, mind you, but provides a sensory overload that's ultimately satisfying.
Who knows where Krauss and Sleigh Bells will fit into the overall scheme of rock idolatry. Hopefully, this endurance test won't run out of steam. Behind the music, Krauss' fashion sense also is attracting mainstream attention by heavy hitters such as Rolling Stone and Vogue.
As fearless as she appears, could Krauss wield as much power and influence as Kathleen Hanna once did?
Connecting the dots from Krauss back to Hanna might be considered a giant leap, but it was hard to think about one without the other after -- by mere coincidence -- viewing the fascinating documentary about The Punk Singer the night before the Sleigh Bells show.
Hanna, the bright-eyed, strong-willed, tough-minded former leader of Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre, fused a bold attitude and feminist stance to make her brand of music acceptable to an entire new generation that might have missed Patti Smith, Runaways Joan Jett, Exene Cervenka or Chrissie Hynde.
Still youthful looking at the age of 45, Hanna endured more than the wrath of a male-dominated music world over the course of a career that was temporarily derailed while her condition worsened as she experienced symptoms from Lyme disease that went undiagnosed for years.
As the film directed by Sini Anderson warmly shows, Hanna (left) still has a legion of admirers, including Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Sleater-Kenney's Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia) and more recent acts such as Care Bears on Fire and She Murders.
With the Julie Ruin, Hanna thankfully continues to remain in the game, perhaps inspired by what has transpired as the result of her contributions. The shape shifters set a precedent, and can proudly sit back for a minute and revel in the accomplishments of determined descendants like Krauss, who's blessed with a larger-than-life stage persona and probably hasn't had to fight nearly as many battles as her punk predecessors.
Still, it's apparent by her radical actions that the last line in Hanna's Riot Grrrl Manifesto published in 1991 is worth championing today:
BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of Sleigh Bells at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado on April 21, 2014.
Kathleen Hanna photo courtesy of Aliya Naumoff.
See Derek Miller, Alexis Krauss and the robe in Sleigh Bells' "Bitter Rivals" video:
Follow Michael Bialas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjbialas