May 2, 2011
With the release of their second LP Gloss Drop a month away, Battles gave the LA prog set a sneak peak at its sans-Tyondai Braxton lineup at a sold-out performance at The Echoplex last night. When Braxton left the band in August while they were still finishing the follow-up to their 2007math-rock opus, Mirrored, it was unclear which direction the band would take.
Mostly, Battles are staying the course. Even though guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams prompted the packed house saying they'd be playing all new selections--and sure enough, the band didn't play a single track from Mirrored, or any prior material for that matter--the show featured the familiar Battles bread and butter: drummer John Stanier furiously beating sonic nonsense into an Afro-infused dance party; Ian Williams' mad-scientist sound manipulations and simultaneous keys- and guitar- playing, and bassist/guitarist Dave Konopka's sinister low-end grooves and textural riffing holding it all together. The organized cacophony that is the band's essence remained in effect 100 percent.
Try as you may to ignore Braxton's absence, it was evident. In his place were audio samples matched up with video projections of vocalists that guest-spot on Gloss Drop, including Gary Numan, Matias Aguayo and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead. A cool effect, sure, but unfulfilling considering the void a musician like Braxton leaves.
Missing was the delicacy that Braxton brought to the table. Without him, the dynamic was less deliberate, more precarious--the jams more unpredictable and visceral. Trio-Battles are more apt to improvise, joining composed parts with exploratory sections of ambient noise, where the band shows the prodigious mastery of the machinery from which they've built their sound.
At the end of the night, Battles showed why they're among the elites in the progressive rock world. And so long as Stanier and Williams remain creative partners, that's where they'll stay, with or without Braxton. It just might take a rebound album and tour to get over him.
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Critics Bias: I tell people, half-seriously, Battles are one of two bands I give a shit about.
The Crowd: Prog geeks. Gone were the hipsters from the 2007 tour. That or hipster fashion morphed into cargo shorts and Rush T-shirts.
Overheard: (At a rare moment of quiet) "USA! USA!"
Random Notebook Dump: I love bands where I have absolutely no idea how they're getting the sounds they use.