Last Night: Battles at Studio A

Categories: Concert Review

Battles001.jpg

Photo by Jeffrey Delannoy

Battles

June 18, 2007
Studio A

Better Than: Sitting inside, listening to the evening’s torrential rain, and pulling bong hits by yourself.

Openers Dance, Jenny have long been championed by Lolo Reskin, the fiery-maned proprietor of Sweat Records who also organized the show. Their earlier material often veered into too-precious territory, all whispered vocals and lo-fi electronics. But last night’s set unveiled new, meatier material; the skittering beats are still there, but the guitars have more heft. Starting to come into its own, the eight-member (!) outfit could prove to be one of Miami’s more promising bands.

Next up was another Sweat Records favorite: John Hancock, of the late, great Awesome New Republic, which broke up last year. ANR has always had a rabid local following; as Hancock took the stage with his new band, the Founding Fathers, the crowd by the stage doubled in size. For good reason: The guy is a consummate weirdo, in a good way – it’s clear truly couldn’t care less about being hip. He and his band donned safari gear and jungle camouflage face paint; an unbuttoned shirt billowed around his skinny torso, above a tight pair of iridescent red pants.

Thankfully his music isn’t “wacky.” Instead, it’s a creative sort of post-punk with serious chops. No, not cookie-cutter angular dance rock. Instead, think funky, bass-heavy stuttering tunes with shades of Prince or Talking Heads, flowing into atmospheric near-ballads. Hancock’s slightly quavering timbre is worthy of any of the classic British rock acts. If only he would share it with the public more often.

Finally, Battles. The New York-based quartet sometimes gets described as “math rock” – one of the most unfortunate music geek terms to have ever been created. Sure, they look like they could be mathematicians – all skinny limbs, neatly pressed oxford shirts and slim-fit slacks, more cubicle than rock stage. Sort of a thinking person’s rock supergroup (most notably, drummer John Stanier played with Helmet), theirs is an experimental sound that still gets heavy, and is almost purely instrumental. Live, this sort of thing is usually about insufferable navel-gazing, but Battles makes it work.

Instead of meandering and petering out, live the songs have a serious forward trajectory. The band pushes the limits of its medium: guitarists spend almost as much time twiddling amp knobs as strumming. Feedback and distorted vocals are played as instruments as much as a keyboard.

By the opening strains of “Atlas,” the band’s buzz song, the evening hit a crescendo, the driving go-go drumbeat pulsating throughout the crowd. Ever seen more than a few bearded, bespectacled young men dance to obtuse instrumental rock? No? It looks like an awkward two-step combined with subtle air-guitar. Or an introverted pogo accompanied by pointing at the floor. Or an eyes-closed pseudo-robot. Whatever; especially with the computerized, eerie filtered vocals of Tyondai Braxton, it was impossible not to feel at least a little possessed.

The musicians’ organic connection is palpable – any slight change or rippled across each successive member’s face, and back again. By the group’s encore, Stanier had upended a drum, pounding it with mallets, with guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka crouching next to him on the floor. At conclusion, it seemed that band and audience alike were spent. Battles has an uncanny ability to create some serious emotion without saying an intelligible word. – Arielle Castillo


Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: After a weekend of breakbeat and hip-hop, I was itching for any guitar action. And Warp Records, which released Battles’ latest album, can do no wrong in my eyes.
Random Detail: A few people wore green glowstick bracelets. Why? Where did they come from?
By the way: This was the band’s first time in South Florida.

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