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Is this embarrassing? Is this not just the type of loose-kneed finger-clicking gig people storm out from? ‘Disengaged avant-garde jazz glam prog-rock’? No. I can feel my foot going. Sodden trainer sole compulsively beating against the adhesive Scala flooring. Battles are playing ‘Atlas’.
Though they were always an odd entity, this evening’s performance is such an eagerly anticipated event that it only serves to heighten this. “£40.” “£40?” “Yes, £40.” Touts at Battles. It would seem that they are courting admirers.
Clark opens proceedings with his usual percussion-focused electronica. Retiring to behind the safety of his computer, additional drum duties fall to an accompanying sticksmith. The meticulous detail applied to Clark’s recorded material, however, fails to transmit well live, with the sampling sounding poorly executed. With John Stanier’s high-rise symbol leering over, acting as Battles’ beacon, it all seems rather tame.
Criticism has been levelled at Battles for lacking any emotional engagement, that their songs are cold and distant. Though it is arguable that this heartless characteristic is, in fact, one of their defining features, Battles sound remarkably organic this evening. Immediately, 'Race:In' has bow-legged guitarists Tyondai Braxton, Dave Konopka and Ian Williams competing to take the lead role in their call-and-response duties, regularly leaping ahead of each other. Rather than muddling their sound it instead adds an element of laxity to the material.
Positioned as Battles’ central member, Stanier is near mechanical. Though improvisation is a central element to Battles, they employ it tastefully, with their minimalist approach leaping on tangents only to loop back upon itself, a method used to dramatic effect on Mirrored. The approach taken towards the release of their debut long-player has, in turn, had an affect on the tracks from EP C / B EP, with ‘SZ2’ and ‘Tras’ reworked to sound far more focused, appropriately rampant alongside the recent material.
Though it is easy to get drowned by signatures and timings, the fact of the matter is that Battles make warped dance music (No pun intended there, presumably – Ed). This is reiterated when you notice individuals in the crowd desperately trying to gargle along to the acid-house vocals of ‘Leyendecker’ or the frenetic hoe-down of ‘Tonto’, utilised as an additional layer to their absurd sound. Though the Animal Collective references have always seemed tenuous, this evening the chants of ‘Tij’ share the same remote brilliance that Panda Bear’s Person Pitch demonstrated to such effect earlier this year.
Battles eventually fall foul of the inevitable: ‘Race: Out’ seemed an appropriate parting note but, whilst the material by no means drops in quality – with ‘Hi/Lo’ sounding spectacular – the encore seems a longwinded close to proceedings when the NYC quartet had the opportunity leave the audience gasping for more. Still, Battles play ‘Atlas’. Everyone stomps their feet and clicks their fingers. Regardless of whatever distorted description you give these gentlemen, there is no doubt that their excellence matches their innovation.