Battles | Philadelphia | Review | Photos

Words & Images by: Jake Krolick

Battles :: 10.31.11 :: Theatre of the Living Arts :: Philadelphia, PA

A full photo gallery from this show awaits below the review!

Battles by Jake Krolick

It’s hard to wave goodbye to summer, especially when the fall was whisked away with a nasty northeastern wind that stole the warmth right out from under our feet. Halloween helps ease the pain of a long winter, as do songs like Battles' “Ice Cream” off their long awaited, loopy-good album Gloss Drop. If you haven’t heard it yet, this song has got punch and bounce in all the right spots. It builds with pace and climaxes in ways you can feel. You can dance to it, run to it, shake to it when it plays. It’s great to drive to, and, well, it’s just damn fun. How would such an intricate song translate into live performance? Two words: fucking amazing!

Battles landed their fall tour in Philadelphia at the Theatre of Living Arts (TLA) on Halloween, and sure enough, about 45 minutes into the set, out popped “Ice Cream”. Uber drumming machine John Stanier, guitarist Ian Williams and the subtle yet stirring bassist Dave Konopka began to construct a wild version of said groove that blew away all of my expectations. They laid it out with jagged bits of guitar and synth that could have easily been used as background music in a horror flick. This melee of screech was followed with a controlled smack of drum, as the chaos of sounds was craftily woven into something bright and brilliant that soon went wild with a cry from the crowd.

Halloween with Battles had no extras, no costumes, no crazy explosions – just undeniably solid music from a band that plays for musicians. Battles is like an old friend you haven't seen in a long while. They are a mix of raw excitement and polished musicianship. They play math rock with jazz sensibilities, yet put out energy much like a punk band. Earlier on in the show they even displayed streaks of jazzy brilliance, not unlike another trio, namely Medeski Martin & Wood. Stanier guided his drumsticks through complex, but thoughtful renditions of the Mirrored album favorites “Atlas” and “Tonto”. Both songs came out with a video game bounce in the vein of Animal Collective, except these songs went somewhere interesting and fun. Plus, they didn’t place the crowd into head-nodding boredom, but made us hoot and holler like a rock show should.

Battles by Jake Krolick

Stanier is not exactly Billy Martin. He’s an entirely different type of drummer, one with tricks up his sleeve you wouldn't expect. Besides being able to trounce the skins as hard as Mike Dillon, Stanier can back off with the best of them, patiently and intelligently placing jazz licks into Battles' building songs. His kit setup placed the cymbal well above anything else on the stage, and his lanky frame was in constant motion during “Atlas”, bending down low over his snare or propped up tall to hit his high flying cymbal. Even minus their ex-vocalist-guitarist Tyondai Braxton’s eerie vocals on “Atlas”, the song went into some interesting melodic spaces.

Williams was a mustached madman who concocted some serious rock ‘n’ roll. He mixed chops on the synths with a well-worn guitar. He dug through the complex bottom of Konopka’s bass work and Stanier’s drumming and pulled out new pathways for the three to explore, all the while keeping a wild eye on the abyss of the crowd. He had that wonderfully jerky punk urge coursing through his veins, often kicking out a foot as he bounced between his angled synths.

The further we got into Battles' Halloween show, the more we realized how amazing these three mechanical wizards were on stage. There was a Latin-tinged polyrhythmic groove that followed “Ice Cream”, stuffed full with insanely sophisticated progressive rock. Here we realized that perhaps the reason Battles held our interest was the dominant sense of playfulness that saturated their music. What becomes stale and systematic for other bands, for Battles becomes an endless examination of new sounds and beats.

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[Published on: 11/11/11]

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