October 17, 2011
For most bands, losing a lead singer is a disaster, sometimes causing the act to cease to exist. It's particularly rare for a rhythm section to continue on as an instrumental act, as is the case with Battles, who played the Mayan last night in support of their new album for Warp, Gloss Drop.
Battles have managed to stay Battles, even without Tyondai Braxton's distinctive, cartoony vocals. Because even without him, they're still a post-rock supergroup.
Drummer John Stanier, formerly of Helmet, sat behind a yellow drumkit at the center of the stage, his trademark extended cymbol floating high above. He was flanked by keyboardist/guitarist Ian Williams (formerly of Don Caballero and Storm & Stress) and guitarist Dave Konopka from Lynx, with the three musicians packed tightly together on the stage.
Stanier remains the band's driving force, an unstoppable human drum machine. Williams orchestrated the interplay between the audio and the visual shows while alternating from keyboard and guitar, to two keyboards, to cowbell and keyboard. Looped synths, bass and guitars were layered over crashing percussion, creating ear-bending soundscapes that were both subtle and complex.
Gloss Drop guest vocalists appeared via images projected onto two monolithic LCD screens at the back of the stage, with the band manipulating the audio/visual samples. We got Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino on “Sweetie & Shag,” Chilean experimental electronic artist Matias Aguayo on “Ice Cream,” and Gary Numan, the archangel of the future, looking quite worn down on “My Machines.” A sample of what sort of sounded like Braxton's voice was triggered during “Atlas,” but the alien vocals were chopped and screwed to the point where it was hard to be sure what we were hearing.
It's probably good that Battles didn't attempt too many Mirrored hits without Braxton, choosing to play the majority of Gloss Drop instead. The group is finally free of obligations imposed by rapid fans to recreate their brilliant debut, and their impressive sophomore album can stand on its own.
Critic's Bias: While we don't expect bands to put on massive stage shows, we're impressed with groups that invest a lot of time and energy into crafting a visual show.
The Crowd: Mostly male guitar nerds and drum heads.
Random Notebook Dump: Wish we'd bought Battles' signed lithograph poster.
Set list below.
Sweetie & Shag