Battles | 11.03.07

live_battles.jpgThe unseen member of Battles is technology, with a laptop set up next to Braxton and various other "stuff" with knobs and dials that are continually being tweaked and adjusted throughout the performance.



Neumo’s, Seattle

Prior to going to a sold-out Battles show on a Saturday night in Seattle, I knew that describing and reviewing their show was going to be difficult. Experimental, math-rock, avant garde, purveyors of futuristic robot jazz anthems; the slew of vague musical terminology attached to Battles still doesn’t describe what they do. Based out of New York, their new album, Mirrored, has enjoyed positive reviews and is one of the most accessible post-rock albums to date. But it is their frenetic live show (and they have been on the road since early March of this year) that has most expanded their reputation.

In the live setting, Battles centers around their incredible drummer John Stanier, whose drum set is in the middle and front of the stage. A cymbal rises seven feet into the air above the stage and is often crashed during the crescendo of particular songs. On either side a keyboard is set up, with Ian Williams on the left and Tyondai Braxton on the right. Both guys also have guitars strapped on and they alternate between keyboards and guitars, occasionally playing both at the same time. Their final member, bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka, stands to the right, slightly behind the drum set. The unseen member of Battles is technology, with a laptop set up next to Braxton and various other "stuff" with knobs and dials that are continually being tweaked and adjusted throughout the performance.

Prior to the band’s emergence, there was a somewhat strange scene that was repeated throughout the night, as a man jumped up onstage and led the crowd in anticipatory hand clapping. The same guy repeated his antics in between songs and then again during the break before the encore, making you wonder if he was part of Battles’ traveling posse or just an overzealous and rapturous fan. Either way, it was mildly disconcerting. That, coupled with a six-foot-five-inch Iggy Pop-in-the-’70s look-alike who was standing in front of me and seemed to move directly into my stage view no matter which way I was leaning, was an inauspicious start to the show.

When the band emerged, they played a couple of notes that were immediately repeated through a feedback loop. Throughout the show, bits of music or vocals were played, then looped, then played over again, then layered over something else. The looping soundtracks were integral to each song, and the intricate recording and replaying of various sounds, impressive enough when heard on CD, becomes almost mind-blowing when witnessed live. The show itself was characterized by highs and lows, with the lows not necessarily unwanted, but just a break from the highs. They played their most well known songs early, the amazing "Atlas," as well as "Leyendecker," and "Tonto" (though sadly, no "Ddiamondd").

At times, the band created a tremendous groove that threatened to unleash the energy pent up in the crowd. In each instance, however, the band would transition to something a little less accessible or experimental and the energy was replaced by a sort of swoon as the noise swirled through the club. The highs and lows were most noticeable in the crowd, which bounced during the high points and stood still or swayed during the lows. The band seemed to almost not notice the presence of the crowd at all, with Braxton only acknowledging the audience halfway through the show with a "Hey Seattle." After the show, walking out of the club into the cool Seattle air, I tried to think of words to describe what I had just experienced and found it difficult, almost impossible. For some, it seemed a religious experience; others just seemed confused. Regardless, Battles need to be seen to be fully understood. Witnessing the band produce its sound is (at least) half the fun.| Jim Mancini

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