Saturday, August 25, 2007

Battles - Live @ Tripod, Dublin

Okay, so this week I went to see Battles live in Dublin. The same venue, same promoter, same opening time as Slint last Saturday. As the adjective "awesome" has been pretty much cornered for that gig, I'll have to settle for "phenomenal" for this one. Of course, the two bands aren't really comparable. One is a cult post-rock whose last real release was a decade and a half ago, the other is a hip new band of the moment (although admittedly perhaps in a more cult sense!). The point is, guess which gig drew a bigger crowd?

I never realised how many people could fit into Tripod - an old train station, by the way, and the site of a rather laughable trainwreck where a steam engine failed to stop, crashed through an end wall and was left perching precariously above the street outside - but there could easily have been twice as many people as at the Slint show. My own ticket, bought the week before, was #400. And, in addition, this was Battles' second show here this year. As the Irish Times said: 'Second capital city appearance in '07 for the thrilling math-rockers. Check out their Mirrored album for the full equation.'. God, I hate that paper, with their eclectic tastes, affable nature, liberal politics and, above all, terrible puns.

Anyway, it was a phenomenal gig... but for the mathematically inclined, I might say that the live/album equation for Battles, while not an inequality, displays perhaps the slight qualities of a disparity. Or, in other words, Battles live and on record are two very different beasts.

Obviously, some bands you can expect to sound even more different live than others, and Battles might really be one of them. Listening to Mirrored in my earphones on the long walk home from the (actual) train station, I realised how different yet equally thrilling the experiences are.

Battles live is intensely physical, gripping and soulfully pounding. The band came on stage in instalments - first Dave Konopka, the bassist, and according to the liner notes, the band's art director (and boy, do they have style - just look at the album artwork, or the video), to play a bass solo. Not a pretty rhythmic little line, mind you, but a screeching, low register wailing (or whaling?) on what is, lest we not forget, an electric guitar. Not satisfied with that, he turned the back on his crowd and fiddled with the electronics on the top of his amps (the gear is also set up almost exactly like it is on the album cover) to make some discordant noise for a minute or two. Meanwhile the drummer, John Stanier (hell, if I name one I have to name them all, right?) came on and started pummeling away at his crazy drum set-up, playing the one continous roll that seemed to me like the complete distillation of thousands of headbanging metal records and some thirty years of speed punk rage, combined into one altogther primal beat. And that's only half the band!

The two guitarists, Ian Williams, and Tyondai Braxton, (the be-afro'd vocalist responsible for making chipmunks rock'n'roll again) came on, acknowledged the crowd and started fiddling with their keyboards and myriad gadgets (the effect of introduction rather spoilt by the fact that they had to wander on and off earlier to start up their laptops (not featured on the album cover... I guess Apple MacBooks would kinda ruin the style... although Williams had his duct-taped upright on his keyboard, which is pretty stylish). From there, it could only degenerate further... in fact, I think they might have been having sound problems early on, 'cos I could hardly hear either vocals or keyboards for the first few songs... God I love noise!

I was thinking the gig was going pretty swimmingly, but then they launched into 'Atlas', and the floor became a sea of pogoing fans, with an energetic light show (not something that featured heavily at Slint!). When you think about it, Battles is really dance music for math rockers... at the end of that song, the drummer, now drenched in sweat and stripped to his shorts, stood up to play his seven-foot hi-hat to sustained applause (well, if he was going to keep going, so were we). As I say, phenomenal - a physical, musical and even emotional phenomenon, as Braxton caught the crowd up in singing along to his nonsensical hooks.

If you compare that noisy, crowded experience to the album as it sounds on record, then there's somewhat of a contrast. Mirrored is the same music either way, and equally impressive in whichever setting. On disc, it sounds rarefied, even a crystallized version of the live sound, which is altogether more extensive, organic and vibrant. Basically, it's well worth hearing, either way...

PS: A nice commenter left a link to this excellent live recording of Battles at festival in Holland. Check it out!


Zeitgeists Publishing said...

xjohn020x zei...

Over here in holland we have enjoyed Battles at Lowlands festival. It was really great!!! You can listen to them playing live at Lowlands at:



gabbagabbahey said...

Hello john, and thanks for the comment. I'm listening to your link at the moment, it's a really good recording. I might put the link into the post itself?

I assume the festival was outdoors, open-air? Personally I think it would be a better experience indoors, but that's just my bias!

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