Tuesday, November 1
Better than: Standing stock-still for 75 minutes.
The members of Battles took the time to remind the crowd at Webster Hall on Tuesday night that they were from New York, but one look at their live setup could have indicated that; while the stage at Webster Hall is pretty large, the band—multi-instrumentalists Dave Konopka and Ian Williams, and drummer John Stanier—operates on a compact, cramped-studio-apartment scale. The three men are all crowded at the front of the stage, only further underscoring that they’re operating as a tightly coiled unit as they thrash about on their instruments, fiddle with electronics, and extend their compositions’ lengthy grooves far into the night.
As the show progressed their fluidity only became more apparent. The vocalists who contribute to their second album Gloss Drop (Warp) weren’t phsyically on hand Tuesday, but they were still present; Gloss Drop guests like Gary Numan and Matais Aguayo (not to mention departed vocalist Tyondai Braxton) were present via tape. Behind the band, projections of those people who were heard but not there mouthed along with the lyrics; that the kinetic energy on stage overtook these blown-up images is a testament to both Battles’ utterly dense arrangements and ability to unwind songs as if they’re endless balls of yarn. There was a decidedly improvisatory feel to Tuesday night’s performance, even though the presence of the pretaped vocals belied any sense of veering too far from the script; even notation-level familiarity with the music’s recorded versions wouldn’t be foolproof protection from getting lost in the grooves, of being curious of just where the band was going next.
Afterward a fellow attendee who’d been up in the balcony complained to me that there wasn’t enough moshing happening on the floor below; another audience member had earlier noted that there was quite a bit of making out going on in her immediate vicinity. Concert-going etiquette aside, these seemingly opposed reactions said a lot about just what makes Battles’ music so invigorating; there aren’t too many bands that can convincingly marry a thrashy aesthetic to feelings that inspire romantic rapture, but Battles, with their pummeling and pushing in service of finding just the right balance between headbanging and hip-swaying, pull it off with aplomb.
Critical bias: Gloss Drop is great. Also, 2011 has been a fantastic year for reminding me that I need to revisit those Don Caballero albums more.
Overheard: “What’s your favorite kind of bagel?”
Random notebook dump: More about this tomorrow, but holy cow were Nisennenmondai mindblowing.