Main man down, but Getintothis’ Matt Eland says Battles are still winning the fight.
Battles have come full circle. Back at the Ten Years of ATP Festival at the tail end of 2009, the band, then still a four-piece, played a somewhat muted set composed mainly of songs from what was to be their second album.
Whether they were lost in that huge Minehead canopy or their hearts just weren’t in it is hard to tell – subsequent interviews with the band seem to hint at simmering discontent based around Tyondai Braxton‘s reluctance to be part of a touring rock band.
One song stood out – Ice Cream, a three minute ditty shorn of the prog leanings and built around a bubblegum repeating refrain that divided opinion in the same way the eventual single did earlier this year.
Aside from that, there was The Line attached to the Twilight soundtrack (!?!) that was particularly Tyondai heavy and suggested good things from the forthcoming album.
And then – Tyondia left. How could a band so resolutely a total sum of its parts survive at 75% strength? Paticularly as the departing member was responsible for the Disney vocals of Atlas, their 2007 crossover hit that united the prog kids with the pop kids?
Just as it seemed the band were going to disappear altogether, they announced the release of this year’s Gloss Drop.
One of their first mainand Europe shows was at Primavera where once again a big stage swallowed them whole, with Dave Konopka‘s bass reverbing around the amphitheatre like bad dubstep and John Stainer‘s percussion robbed of any taut impact.
They seemed lost without their figurehead – the video screens, upon which the guest stars perform, were no replacement for that afro and impish vocal looping dexterity.
I trudged away as the encore of Sundome (‘this isn’t the one you think it’s going to be‘, say the band by way of introduction, refering to the conspicuously absent Atlas) bounced formlessly off the concrete, thinking that they’d gone out with a wimper rather than a bang.
Then came the faith restoring album; here the band seem more focused, less prone to excursions into whimsy, unshackled by their past. Because who cares about the past when you have a rock show to play?
And so we come to a mild november night in Liverpool where EVOL and Wingwalker have pulled off the coup of the year.
A headline American act in a Kazimir that’s rarely been this rammed. It’s a treat to see their interactions up close and get a glimpse of how they manage the complexities of their music.
Dave grimaces with each misplaced loop, John nods aggressively, listening for the one beat to pluck from the swirl. They’re much more visceral these days and it’s a joy to see past the polish.
They have a ton of gear on stage and it’s amazing that more things don’t break. Even when they do – as happens tonight with Ian’s keyboard troubles – it doesn’t even distract from the momentum.
They start with Africastle, with echoplexed guitar plucks building into a taut sleigh bell driven creshendo only to be utterly demolished by one of Stanier’s finest drumming hours.
This man is in his forties for god’s sake – he has the stamina of a giant and lumbers onto the stage as if he’s still looking for his beanstalk.
They even do Atlas, a sampled children’s choir standing in for their old vocalist (a sly dig perhaps? This and the relentless touring schedule seems to suggest they’ve made peace with their past) and even a bit of Tonto.
The interludes are fun, with the intro to Ice Cream broken down into a stacatto note stab, reminiscent of Stanier’s old gig in Helmet.
Wall Street is a dynamic joy, with that evil lego glitch middle eight the crowning glory in a blaze of madness.
This time the Sundome encore isn’t a chore, it’s a pleasure, one well worth sacrificing the last train home for; powerful and robust against the groove, Battles have lived up to their name.
The other winners are Wingwalker and Evol who deserve all the plaudits for bringing such a huge band to such an intimate space, which leaves us all to wonder… who next?