NEW YORK, NY—To say you’re going to see School Of Seven Bells live is not saying you’re going to a rock show but a performance art exhibit.
I had been excited about SVIIB ever since I first heard about them. An electro-pop supergroup of sorts, with Benjamin Curtis formerly of Secret Machines and identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza formerly of On! Air! Library!, they create music that has a quiet confidence about it. An ambient dance party that, on their album Alpinisms, feels slightly reserved for fear that if they were to release their full sound it would blow you away; which is exactly what happened at the show.
The stage was set with two mics in front for the Deheza sisters. No drum kit but a Macbook Pro and drum machine was set in the rear center of the stage where Curtis would play guitar while manipulating knobs and buttons to maintain the beat. Behind them, a large white sheet that ran the full width of the stage where images of Buddhist elephants, an eyeball and the moon encased in a floating blue cube would be projected. Finally, other than the three footlights that would be used sporadically throughout the performance, the stage remained completely dark.
That was what struck me as most interesting. The members of SVIIB didn’t want the performance to be about their physical appearance but about the images and sounds that they could conjure up to hold the audience in almost a sort of trance. They barely spoke to the crowd except to politely say “Thank You” only five times. When the band came on stage to play their first song, “Wired For Light,” the reserved sound on their record was replaced with guitars played by Curtis and Alejandra and keys handled by Claudia that ripped through the ballroom while the beat pulsated like the loudest heartbeat on the planet. Balancing out this massive sound, however, were the soothing, pitch-perfect vocals of the Deheza sisters. This was best exhibited on songs like “White Elephant Coat” and “Sempiternal/Amaranth” where the music gave way at times so their harmonies could have room to shine.
A personal favorite of mine is their song “Chain” which could pass as a song you would hear at a club. When they played it I began to nod my head and move my feet a bit. As I looked down from the balcony into the audience, though, no one else seemed to be moving. All eyes were totally focused on what was emanating from the stage. It was almost like if they moved during a song they would be taken out of their semi-hypnotic state they were in. Through other danceable songs like “Half Asleep,” “My Cabal,” and “Conjurr” most of the audience remained perfectly still. But as each song finished the applause got louder until the very end of their first set when it erupted so much so that the band came back for an encore. It was then that Alejandra informed us that this was the band’s 71st show before finishing the night with the songs “For Kalaja Mari” and “Prince Of Peace.”
School Of Seven Bells has taught me you can’t judge a band by its record. The show was completely unexpected in the sense that this three-piece, drumless band managed to stop everyone dead in their tracks with the amazing strength their live sound possessed. If you’ve heard Alpinisms and liked it then I applaud your taste in music. But if you want the full effect of their album then go see them live. Now.