My introduction to Battles is one of those rare instances where the manfriend bought tickets to the show and told me about them rather than the other way around. All the better- I never pretend to always be in the know.
While I have to admit that my first couple of listens to their album, Mirrored, produced a WTF/my brain hurts/how do I categorize this reaction that was surely intentional, followed by an ‘I’m not sure if I like this’. I have issues with no lyrics music- it just always feels like it is missing something to me.
Battles, from NYC, is classified as a math rock band, which can be considered the jazz of rock music. There are 4 members, one of which is John Stanier, the drummer for Helmet. And fittingly, the ‘vocalist’, Tyondai Braxton, is the son of an avant-garde jazz musician (and of no relation to Toni Braxton, in case you were wondering).
Battles is a drummer-centric band, making their name all the more appropriate. The incessant booms create the feeling of a constant trudging along, like an army off to battle in some parallel universe. It also could be the soundtrack to some Koyanisqaatsi-esque film.
The computer geek hipsters were out in full force for this one, ready to champion the band that has got them through their day of programming as their background space out music. We caught the end of the opening set, Ponytail, who has, in the same vein of Battles, nonsensical lyrics.
The stage set up was pretty complex, but nothing else would be appropriate for a math rock band, right? About a million feet of cables, two Macs, 2 keyboards, and, as expected, a front and center drum set with a ridiculously high cymbal. There’s some practice drums to warm up.
On comes the band, and the crowd is in a frenzy. Stanier starts his ass-kicking on the drums. The first half of the show are the no-vocals songs, leaving me to wonder if they aren’t able to pull that of live. There is a lot of interesting back and forth between playing guitar and keyboards at practically the same time, which looks really odd in person. Due to all of the delays, it sometimes feels like they aren’t really playing what you are hearing. Sometimes they are strumming the guitar, but its making noise. Really hard for me to get used to.
The cooler part was when they started the songs with vocals, such as everyone’s favorite, Atlas, and my personal favorite, Leyendecker. Then I found it pretty fascinating- the band took on this animated feel like that of an adult swim cartoon. Even Braxton’s mannerisms while producing these vocals became very exaggerated and stuccato-like, as if these sounds were emanating from his skin.
In the most deserving encore that I’ve seen in a while (the crowd was really into it), the drummer stood up and turned around, looking very serpentine as his black shirt was completely soaked through. It was all very intense.
And afterwards, the band sold their own merchandise. Great way to take out the middleman.
video from youtube