Cinco de Mayo, 2011
Any worries that Battles might have trouble carrying on without departed guitarist/vocal>"/>
Battles at the Croc via SSG
Battles Cinco de Mayo, 2011 The Crocodile
Cinco de Mayo, 2011
Any worries that Battles might have trouble carrying on without departed guitarist/vocal garbler Tyondai Braxton were quickly laid to rest last night at the Crocodile: From their first instrumental number, the trio were every bit the live powerhouse they've always been, technically dazzling but never letting their prowess get the better of their purely pleasurable, physically moving grooves--no wanking just for the sake of showing off. And yet if they were in that way the same Battles as ever, in another sense they seemed determined to prove that they were an entirely reborn band--by playing nothing but material from their excellent forthcoming album Gloss Drop (June 7th via Warp Records). (Could they have played Mirrored's stomping, Smurfy war anthem "Atlas" without Braxton on vocals? Almost certainly, but they pointedly didn't.) Lucky for everyone, the new album totally shreds.
And, as mentioned yesterday, the band weren't entirely without vocal accompaniments; throughout the set, guest vocalists from Gloss Drop would appear via video projection to do their parts. First up was Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino, showing up like a karaoke spirit for the funky, carouselling "Sweetie & Shag," singing breathy and thin while suited guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams just danced for a moment, watching the screen, his guitar hanging to his side, while drummer John Stanier and bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka held down the rhythm. Next was Matias Aguayo for "Ice Cream," Gloss Drop's bright, springy first single, which was just as bright live but considerably more heavy and rocking--really, this was the moment when the show took off. Makino was sexy, Aguayo was goofy--open-shirted, dancing against a black background--but both guest spots ended with Williams slicing and looping their parts live to create new little stuttering rhythms for the band to riff out over. Next was Gary Numan's awesome "My Machines," and then the band closed with the powerful instrumental number "Futura," probably the single best jam on Gloss Drop.
Speaking of "jam," my distinguished colleague Jonathan Zwickel from City Arts spent much of the show fervently making the case for Battles as a "jam band" (positively comparing them to Medeski Martin & Wood), but while there did seem to be moments of improvisation throughout the set (on the video-slicing segments, for example) and several instrumental tracks did bleed into each other or repeat previous tracks' themes (this is the case on Gloss Drop as well), the only song on which they truly opened up and jammed seemed to be on the encore "Sundome," which featured the disembodied voice of Boredoms' EYE but no video image on the screen. On record, the track is a kind of shiny dub; live, they really stretched out and fucked around with its already-loose first half, wandering if not quite losing the plot, before bringing everything together around one last high-crashing Stanier beat.
They were not a talkative bunch, but at one point Konopka asked the sold-out crowd, "In Seattle public schools, do they teach a class in being the best audience in the world?" Aw, shucks.