An Electronic MadnessNovember 2nd, 2011
Battles – Webster Hall – November 1, 2011
Surprise is no longer an appropriate reaction when it comes to technology’s entanglement with music. Pro Tools, pedals and amplifiers are now mainstays of live performances, expanding timbral possibilities beyond acoustic capability. To believe otherwise is to impose delusion on reality. The more appropriate response is awe and wonder. Try matching sound to sight and you’re more likely to become dizzy than echolocate instrumentation. But that challenge makes bands like Battles a thoroughly engaging show, with the eyes, ears and mind.
On Tuesday night at Webster Hall, Battles returned to a “hometown crowd” for the first time since April. The band is currently touring in support of its latest album, Gloss Drop, the first without former band member Tyondai Braxton. And, while his vocal contributions are missed, they aren’t forgotten. Without a singer, Battles’ live show relies on recorded vocal tracks from Braxton as well as recent Gloss Drop contributors, like Matias Aguayo and Gary Numan. The trick is Battles matches the vocals to video projections of the singers, a clever way to humanize the sound.
But outside of watching the band and the screens, Battles’ performance is most appreciated in its ingenuity and physicality. Multi-instrumentalists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka constantly trigger loops and tinker with sounds while drummer John Stanier pounds mercilessly against his drum kit, highlighted by an elevated ride cymbal. During performances of crowd pleasers “Atlas” and “Ice Cream,” all three melded their seemingly incongruous parts into a whole, astonishingly sounding like pop music. It is electronic madness—enough so to inspire periodic moshing, but Battles always finds a way to make it both difficult and enjoyable. —Jared Levy