Battles @ Liquidroom Ebisu (28th Sep '07)
Polymaths: Battles Rewrite the Atlas
The topic of multi-tasking is usually cordoned off to conversations about workplace productivity, but the quartet known as Battles may change that. These four guys frequently have more than 6 instruments going at a time, with samplers and keyboards occupying whatever hand isn't on the fretboard. The result: a complex and rewarding hybrid of indie rock.|
Their stellar performance at this year's Fuji Rock Festival made this tour a surefire sellout, but I was still surprised to see just how packed Ebisu Liquid Room's space could get. They started 10 minutes early (!) so by the time I walked in, there was no room to walk, much less to push my way to the front with a laptop-loaded backpack (all the coin lockers were gone, dammit). Instead, I staked out a spot in the back near the bar, standing on my toes to see frenzied crowd up front. It was a tough situation for me, as watching them play adds a lot to hearing them: both guitarists Ian Williams and Tyondai Braxton play keyboards and guitar at the same time, while percussionist John Stainer frequently sounds like two drummers at once.
Battles are often described as "math rock" because of their complicated rhythmic patterns and start/stop precision. Essentially, they are a guitar band, but a heavy reliance on samplers and loops give the riffs of their breakthrough album, "Mirrored," an even more serrated edge. The band's live sound has evolved since their last Japan visit a few months back − tonight the sound was chunkier, greasier, like they've grown so comfortable in their set structures that they want to see how far they can push before they collapse.
I didn't get this feeling until 4 songs in. What started out like a replay of the album quickly changed in the first bars of their single, "Atlas." All the main elements were there: Stainer's bombastic precision on the drums, Braxton's tweaked and treated vocal lines, David Konopka's insistent bass lines. The difference came as these parts fleshed out. Braxton's vocals altered in pitch, while his keyboard duel with Ian Williams nearly plinked and plonked out of control. This is when the fun really began.
The band has no specific front man, but with Braxton's kinky hair, exotic looks and role as "vocalist" (it was fun watching him sample himself one bar ahead and then tweak it on alternating loops) it was somewhat appropriate that he addressed the crowd − in Japanese, no less. Near the end of the set, he threw flowers into the audience ¬− orchids from a vase inexplicably placed on an amp.
Battles have spent the last year wrestling with rock critic hyperbole, and so I hesitate to add any more here, but it's hard to see a show like this and not expect more bands to gravitate in this direction. Until then, Braxton and company have no one to battle but themselves.
While there were only four musicians onstage, it wasn't uncommon to hear 6 or more instruments: guitarists playing.
Their live shows prove that multi-tasking has a home in music as well.
report by jinki and photo by izumikuma
The photo is taken by izumikuma on the 18th, Aug. @ The Green Man Festival.