School of Seven Bells and Active Child at Grand Central, October 16

SevenBellsGrandCentral1.jpg
Photo by Ian Witlen
Seven Bells' Alley Deheza.
View photos from School of Seven Bells at Grand Central.

School of Seven Bells
With Active Child
Grand Central, Miami
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Better than: Floating on cloud nine.

When we arrived at Grand Central last night, one thing really stuck out to us: The crowd was mostly dudes. Were they all there to catch a glimpse of drop-dead gorgeous School of Seven Bells singer Alley?

Maybe they hoped to meet her and become groupies? Were they all secretly pining over her, hoping all their male love might make her a permanent Miami resident? There couldn't have been more than 100 people there last night. But the size made the show feel extremely intimate, and the music that much more powerful.

SevenBellsGrandCentral2.jpg
Photo by Ian Witlen

Earlier this week, Benjamin Curtis told Crossfade about a stellar Miami-only video installation that would be provided by local artist Juan Tapia. But when the band took to the stage, the LED lights had no added oomph. We were expecting a jaw-dropping installation, and instead the only real difference we noticed was an old-fashioned motorcycle parked right in front of the stage.

For another thing, we've never seen Grand Central so empty. Was this because Daniel Tosh was performing at the Fillmore at the exact same time? Because the Flaming Lips were putting on a show the same night in Boca? We'd never know, but one thing was for sure: These fans were die-hard.

We spotted sporadic women standing alone -- no doubt showing up solo for the night -- dancing and swaying, arms flailing and eyes tightly closed, almost fairy-like and entranced by Alley's voice. Make no mistake: Alley's singing ability is unique and quite beautiful live, and that was the second thing we noticed after how easy she is on the eyes. 

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Photo by Ian Witlen

Despite the very recent departure of founding member Claudia Deheza, the band was in top form last night, sounding extremely tight and not making even a single mistake while onstage. Meanwhile, Curtis backed Alley on vocals -- a strange and drastic change to Claudia's sweet, lighthearted whispers. We caught a lot of talking from fans between songs, no doubt mentioning the clear differences now that Seven Bells is one member short and no longer two-thirds female. But once the newly reshuffled trio began playing hits like "Bye Bye Bye," "Windstorm," and "I L U," it seemed all was forgotten. The crowd cheered and jumped -- a strange sight to see for such ethereal, dream-like sounds, but clearly welcome and encouraged by SVIIB.

The lighting at Grand Central was a lot brighter than usual, and they came full-on and turned off through each song's bridge, adding that much more of a climax to drum and guitar solos. The beats were so strong and out of character, and every time Curtis and new drummer Zach Saginaw on stage would begin to do their thing, Alley would crouch down on the floor and wait till they were done. Polite, but we couldn't help but feel this was possibly a subtle nod to honor her sister's missing-in-action status.

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Photo by Ian Witlen

The band is clearly on a different wavelength now, but it might not necessarily be a bad thing. The sound was richer, the instruments louder, but nothing quite as powerful as Alley's vocals. The only real thing we missed? That light show "explosion" we were promised. The crowd still ate everything up and provided so much energy that after SVIIB announced its last song, the bandmates whispered behind the mike, agreeing to give us all seven more minutes in heaven.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I was pulled over and received a ticket before arriving at Grand Central, making me miss Active Child. But somehow Alley's smooth vocals made me forget it entirely.

The Crowd: Lots of 20- and 30-somethings, hipsters, and plenty of people standing alone.

Overheard in the Crowd: From a girl in the audience to her friend: "Why are there so many guys here? Is it 'cause the lead singer's so pretty?"

Random Detail: The drunk girl from Surfer Blood's September 18 show was there, drunk again, and dancing with just as much sloppy enthusiasm.

Set List
School of Seven Bells
"Half Asleep"
"H.I.S."
"Babs"
"Joviann"
"Dust Devil"
"Bye Bye Bye"
"Windstorm"
"I L U"

Encore
"My Cabal"

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