BattlesEdit this event
- Apollo, Manchester »
Manchester Apollo. 3,500 capacity venue. Glorified club night. That's a pretty ambitious call from the Now Wave/Warehouse Project promoters. Even more so when you consider the fact that it's between terms, it's festival season, and tickets prices are likely to have elicited more of a wince than the 'Where is it??! When is it!!???' type of reaction. Caribou and a returning Battles are the night's anchors. Enough to draw a sell out crowd? Well probably, on paper. But, for the aforementioned reasons, the paper got scrunched up and chucked in the vast open space at the back of the venue among all the plastic beer cups, broken shoelaces and empty wraps.
All things considered (and the place was barely half full, and kinda chilly, and kinda.. echoey), the night passes off in pretty celebratory fashion. That in itself has to be regarded as something of a success. The superior Apollo PA deserves credit. Never has bass managed to permeate so many bodily organs in such a resoundingly pleasing manner. Ribcage hum assaults were often closely followed by gut-absorbed thud punches and the kind of low frequencies that tickle the soles of your feet. The DJs and support acts are more responsible for the torrents of bass therapy than the two main 'bands,' it has to be said. It is a curious clash. One minute a decent DJ set is working towards a crescendo, the next, stuff on stage is being rearranged and any residual atmosphere fizzles away with the last dropped beat. It's pretty frustrating. Compared to the Warehouse Project night last year that also featured Caribou (Four Tet) and a bunch of DJs, it's a pale relation, devoid of intensity, momentum and a few thousand people.
And so, to the headliners.. Battles. Battles, Battles, Battles. This is basically what my head is doing during the band's punchy, if slightly brief, set. Yeah, so more cerebral activity than normal, but not the easier to identify 'This is great!' or 'This is quite shit..' cognition that is usually quite discernible despite the beer and the.. Yeah, despite the beer. Maybe my head is just mirroring the music. For the uninitiated, Battles - as they were with their much-lauded début album, _Mirrored_ - are still all about cyclical, intricately-layered rhythm. And though the majority of folks here are dancing quite happily, it's not strictly dance music. It's a band setup,with the Tazmanian Devil (the drummer), and a ludicrously high cymbal that stands like a lead microphone, positioned at centre stage. So it's more noisy prog rock, then? Whatever compartment Battles fall into is a tired debate. Looking around the venue, it's clear from the contrasting reception that as long as that debate still rumbles on the more the uncertainty about how people feel about this band will persist.
As far as tonight goes, the performance is all there. The mathematically precise surges of raw power come like Einstein just invented kaleidoscopic psychedelia. Oppenheimer would be impressed with the raw explosive energy. But like Oppenheimer's famous verbal portents, Battles' sonic violence rather depends on visual accompaniment to crystallise the potency. Unfortunately for tonight's show, the visual stuff is pretty muted. Gary Numan's sallow-skinned Borg face does make an appearance - and it does make an appreciable difference. Things start to click a little, but it feels a bit half-arsed for 2011. Maybe that's the band scaling back on the music + pictures methodology. Maybe the budgets aren't there. Whatever. It feels like the soundtrack is missing a film. Without some form of contextualisation, something to grasp onto, Battles feel a bit like the Tin Man of music. Maybe Dorothy is on her way. But for the time being, Toto's barking and something is really beating, but it ain't a heart.
Feeling and emotion has never been lacking for Caribou (& co.), but strangely, whatever mood you attach to last year's magnificent _Swim_, it all feels a little dilute tonight, like Daniel Victor Snaith just came back to the surface too quick. It's pretty understandable. The _Swim_ tour has been long and inevitably punishing - Caribou have toured it in the UK alone, countless times - and _Swim_ is an album that really had its moment and carried momentum in '10 and not '11. And ss though this was a realisation before the set had even begun, things get experimental and semi-improvisational. In truth, this club-oriented promotion called for more 4/4 intensity and less of the trippy forays. The usual suspects - namely 'Odessa' and 'Sun' - still carry magic powers, though. The latter, featuring that now famous extended coda of relentless bleep loops is probably the best 12-inch mix that never made it to 12-inch.
So. It ends well and people leave happy, but a night that had the makings of a classic got stuck somewhere in the making.
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