The first thing about seeing Battles in concert is that their records donâ€™t even remotely hint at the savage power and sheer volume of their live show. Mirrored, their breakthrough debut full-length, and the tracks that have been released from their upcoming sophomore effort, have their live show’s playful braininess and experimental complexity but they have a mannered ease to them. On record, the band may be playing some of the most uncompromisingly difficult music in all of indie rock but it sounds like they’re making it without breaking a sweat. Live, it’s a whole different story–by the end of the first song, the band was already drenched.
Guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams, guitarist Dave Konopka, and drummer John Stanier kept Battles going after frontman Tyondai Braxton decamped back to his avant-garde, solo musician roots. In Braxton’s palce, the band has enlisted a whole cadre of guest vocalists to lend their pipes to the new songs. Those singers don’t tour with Battles but appeared on screens behind the band and had their voices inserted into the mix with backing tracks. Every so often, the enormous face of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, The Boredom’s Yamantaka Eye or Gary Newman’s Gary Newman would pop up and insert their heavily processed, cut-up words into the Battles’ rhythmic assault.
While the show’s sheer, brutal volume was unmistakable, what became immediately apparent is that Battles are, first and foremost, rhythmic terrorists. The band would alternate between sparse, almost ambient, guitar or keyboard-led grooves and monster full-band ones but never done in a way that was even remotely predictable. Every groove built off the previous one in completely unexpected direction. Not once during the entire show did were my expectations of what was going to happen next proven even remotely accurate. While that may be because they exclusively played material from their as-of-yet unreleased new album, Gloss Drop, it’s more likely that even before the band had settled into a particular groove, they’d already begun the process of deconstructing it, mining its nooks and crannies for weird, interesting aspects to alter, remove or build upon.
There’s really no band out there like Battles right now–sounding like Frank Zappa, at his most classically obtuse, making an album with James Murphy or John Cage fronting the !!!. Hell, the first sign should have been the drummer’s infamously tall cymbal. Any band that sets their crash seven feet in the air is pretty much guaranteed to be ambitious as hell.