Published Apr 30, 2011If somebody told the audience, before Battles took the Mod Club stage, that the band wouldn't be playing any songs from their beloved 2007 debut, Mirrored, there might have been a few long faces and more than a few scowls. But Battles are a changed band, and their set, which consisted entirely of tracks from the forthcoming Gloss Drop, proved it. Guitarists Ian Williams and Dave Konopka whipped up an ominous, throbbing cloud of sound, signalling the beginning of Gloss Drop's opening track, "Africastle." However, it wasn't until drummer John Stanier -- the band's definite centrepiece in the wake of former member Tyondai Braxton's departure last year -- took to his kit that both the song and set erupted. Stanier thrashed himself sweat-soaked as he nailed his kit (complete with his signature, impossibly high crash cymbal) with precise fury.
In Braxton's absence, the band have relied on a number of reputable guests to fill vocal duties; live, those guests -- including Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, and Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino -- performed via pre-recorded video screens, meaning that Battles, and especially Stanier, were faced with the formidable task of keeping rhythm to vocal tracks and synth loops. Ask any drummer, that's no small feat.
Still, Battles pulled it off seamlessly, for the most part: "Sweetie & Shag" topped its recorded version in terms of sheer force and "Futura" -- in all its churning, stop-and-start glory -- was the set's definite climax. It was only next to the powerful, mostly organic instrumentation of encore song "Sundome" that the band's unfamiliarity with playing along to pre-recorded tracks on "Dominican Fade" and "Inchworm" showed. Besides these minor scuffs, though, the show was a thrilling success, especially during the one-two punch of "Wall Street" and new single "Ice Cream."
It seems silly to compare the current incarnation of Battles with the previous. The band's live show is neither better nor worse off without Braxton, and from what the smiling, head-bobbing crowd heard at the Mod Club, neither is their music.