Battles Live: Human After All?

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Despite all the acclaim their debut album, Mirrored, received last year, math rock outfit Battles still has their share of detractors. To some, listening to Mirrored was a cold, dead experience as their music lent almost very little, if any, soul or emotion. Fair, I say, but that does not make it any less of an incredible recording.

If anything, the vocals that multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton (son of Anthony, the legendary saxophonist) lends to the songs makes their latest material far more accessible to the listener than the purely instrumental material released almost 4 years ago on the EP C and B EP records. His vocals may be indecipherable, but it adds a human quality that was lacking before. If you were familiar with the band before Mirrored, you were in awe of how precise and monumentally dense the performances were on record, you swore it had to have been done by robots. Daft Punk, eat your heart out.

My first experience with Battles was about 4 years ago when they supported The Icarus Line (remember when Penance Soiree was the shit for about a month?) on tour. Being new to the band when I first saw them, their performance blew me away with how simply incredible they were as musicians. You had to be there: my jaw hit the floor when Braxton and Ian Williams played the exact same melody on their keyboard while fingerpicking their guitars at the same time. John Stainer was an absolute beast on the drums. Watching them was like staring in awe at an enormous machine run like clockwork. But all the while the band hardly addressed the semi-hostile crowd, with the only acknowledgment coming in the form of garbled vocals from Braxton in between songs.

Fast-forward to last Wednesday night as Battles performed for a private audience at 86 in Hollywood as a warm-up for their Coachella gig that coming weekend. Fresh off their newfound fame from Mirrored, they breezed through a set off the album, including “Atlas,” “Leyendecker,” and the monstrous “Tonto.” Having seen them before I was knew what I was getting, but what amazed me most was how loose the band looked despite their music’s call for precision. Despite all the hopping around by Williams and Braxton, the notes came exactly when they were supposed to.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came when Braxton greeted the audience with an unadulterated-by-knobs salute of “Wassup LA!” Battles had tore down the facade once and for all, and showed us that underneath the mechanized output was just some regular guys like you and me. That’s when you took a big sigh of relief and realized to yourself that you had made it out of Uncanny Valley.


Written by Carman

April 28, 2008 at 12:16 am

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