So much, so fast

Battles, Great Scott, April 5, 2007
By JOE BERNARDI  |  April 6, 2007


Angular, mathy bands run the risk of boring their audience live. Last night at Great Scott, Battles kept our attention by doing so many things correctly at the same time. The line-up of the band — avant-jazz great Anthony Braxton’s son Tyondai, former Helmet drummer John Stanier, and Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams — leads one to  assume that their sound would be extremely complex and left-of-center.  And yes, their music is intricate and elegant, but they ensured that their simple, repetitive rhythms and catchy melodies were the emphasis.

The setup involves three guitars, a bass, two MIDI/synthesizer setups, and a drumset. As a result, Battles’s live sound came across as extremely dense.  Each facet rang out separately, however, and oftentimes the overall effect was the band playing the instrumental hook to seven or eight songs at the same time. 

A showcase of the band’s newer material was the highlight of the set, showing off Braxton’s ability to vocalize soaring noises, only to distort and shift the sounds until his voice sounded like another instrument amidst the maelstrom of guitar and drums.

Stanier’s drum work was stunning, with his complex beats keeping flawless time with Braxton and Williams’ automated electronic sounds.  His crash cymbal was raised to its maximum height, standing head and shoulders above everything else on stage.  Whenever Stanier hit the crash, usually signifying a change or build in the song, the crowd responded passionately.

Battles managed to carry their dense recorded sound into the live arena, throwing in enough flourishes to keep the audience on their toes.  In particular, the addition of several clean vocal fills by Braxton created a soulful, humanistic bridge between the bands’ extremely technical recorded material and the necessity of live interaction.

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  Topics: Live Reviews , Anthony Braxton, Ian Williams, John Stanier,  More more >
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