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Battles @ The TLA.

June 14, 2012
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Text by Chad Sims. Images by Rick Kauffman.

Before a friend of mine had told me they were playing at TLA, I had heard Battles but they hadn’t left much of an impression. My friend explained to me that the band included keyboardist/guitarist Ian Williams (Don Caballero) and drummer John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk). On second try, I found Battles to be a fascinatingly complex and unusual band, so I was psyched to go see them pull these songs off live.

The problem with Battles’ live show, which was clearly not a problem for much of the audience, is what you plan to get out of the show. If you want a dance party you are in luck. If you want a rock show then not so much.

Much of the performance relied on a number of loops. It was hard to tell if these loops were being generated live or if they were prerecorded; some of which almost certainly were prerecorded as Williams was sending hand signals to someone off stage. I have no problem with loop-based music or bands integrating loops into their performance but part of what I find so intriguing about Battles’ albums is the intricate interplay of the instruments. I was hoping to see how the band pulled off these parts live but often one or more of the parts was emanating from somewhere other than one of the three players.

The other problem is the band has not replaced vocalist Tyondai Braxton, who left before their most recent album. Instead of having no vocals at all, the vocals were prerecorded. This situation generated a sort of strange reverse karaoke vibe with little audience interaction.

Perhaps the best aspect of this show was Battles’ stage setup. Not only did they have a bunch of huge amplifiers behind them, they also had two large video screens that displayed people singing, dancing, words or colors. The drum set was pushed right up to the front of the stage, Williams’ keyboards were setup one on either side of his space so he could play them both and still easily be seen by the audience, and guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka occupied the other side of the stage and spent much of the show crouching down twiddling knobs.

Again, I can’t say it was a bad show. Just be aware that if you are expecting a rock show, then Battles isn’t for you. That being said, for a band as strange as Battles, an out of the usual performance style seems only fitting.

The opening act Work Drugs are a Philly based band who play some tight, chilled out, 80s inspired pop. It is the kind of music that seems like it would be playing on a Miami yacht in 1985 during a coke orgy. Grimace Federation started the night with a DJ set.

One Comment
  1. anon permalink
    June 15, 2012 2:23 pm

    Any pre-recorded material they use (really only vocals) is triggered by Ian Williams. I only ever saw him communicating with the monitor engineer about his mix. If you’re talking about the loop in Ice Cream, go search YouTube for the clip of Ian Willaims trying to construct that loop live – it’s excruciating! The way they do it now it much smoother.

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