Live Review: Battles

BATTLES – ABC – 25/10

Despite a changing lineup, Battles have always had a signature sound: mushing together highly technical math rock with an almost mechanical blending of dance music’s sampling and repetition with rock instrumentation into extended, melodic jams – all factors that bode well in the context of the spontaneity of a live setting.

First up is experimental math-folk duo Buke and Gase.  Despite an ambivalent crowd, the two surprise and bewilder with a fantastically varied live setup, mixing Arone Dyer’s ‘buke’ (modified six-string baritone ukulele) work with Aron Sanchez’s guitar-bass along with Dyer’s tortured and expressive vocal manipulation, as her powerful high pitched voice is almost demonically pitch-shifted.

Playing mostly new material, the band silence any naysayers, pulling in the disinterested as their innovative material coherently veers from Cocteau Twins glossolalia to rumbling, rhythmic songs such as their much-loved set closer, ‘Houdini Crush’.

Battles start much like their songs do, beginning inconspicuously with a rumbling guitar loop from David Konopka, with Ian Williams adding and embellishing via keyboards and guitar before drummer Stewart Lee – no, sorry, it’s John Stanier – joins in.  Stanier, onstage as in Battles’ songs, takes centre stage between the two other musicians.

 His furiously precise drumming, anchors layers of skyrocketing loops as the band tear into Gloss Drop fixture ‘Ice Cream’ following opener ‘Dot Com’.  He’s the no-man’s land between two warring melody-makers, attacking and bouncing musical motifs over each other during non-album specific tracks such as ‘Futura’ and ‘FF Bada’.

Despite their musical precariousness, Battles never slip up, creating a relentless onslaught of bitcrushed keys and guitars on tracks such as the monstrous ‘Atlas,’ which features vocals from a children’s choir.  Yet for all their virtuosity, Battles are endlessly playful, both musically and conceptually.

Konopka sizes up the smitten audience, thanking Glasgow for Scotch and Mogwai (for which they receive the biggest cheer all night); and for Williams, whose grandfather hails from Glasgow, providing an interesting glimpse into innovative and upbeat musical minds.

Williams clarifies “we like our encores like we like our sex – quick” before the band launches into a furious rendition of ‘The Yabba,’ seeing both audience and musicians emerge exhausted and exuberant, victorious from showers of skittering polyrhythms and arpeggiating melodies in the perfect closure of a constantly dynamic and kinetic show.

[Liam Harrison]

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