Home Music Man down: Battles’ refined lineup takes stage in Montreal

Man down: Battles’ refined lineup takes stage in Montreal

by The Concordian October 11, 2011
Man down: Battles’ refined lineup takes stage in Montreal

Three-quarters of the original members of Battles put on three-quarters of a show for Montrealers at Le National.

Anticipation filled the air at Le National as fans awaited progressive-rock band Battles to take stage on Oct. 3. The drum kit was front and centre and its only cymbal hung well above the audience, mounted as high as it can go. It is simple but demands attention, as it suspends silently in the dark, a contrast of what was to come.
Formed in 2002, Battles did not release a full-length album until 2007. Mirrored was critically acclaimed and the unique sound of the single “Atlas” attracted a strong fan base. Despite the success, frontman Tyondai Braxton decided to part ways before the group’s latest effort, Gloss Drop. The remaining three members stormed into Montreal last week to promote the album, showing that Battles is alive and well.
Crowds jumped around to John Stanier’s powerful and in-the-pocket drumming style, whose hard-driving and innovative beats provide a solid foundation for Dave Konopka (guitar and bass) and veteran Ian Williams (guitar and keyboards) from the influential ‘90s rock-fusion band Don Caballero. Together, they create a unique sonic atmosphere, making extensive use of effects, sound triggers, and loop pedals to build a wall of sound, which spans from being tight and controlled to dissonant and chaotic.
Many songs featured extended soloing over simple backbeats, which grow in intensity then shift into more unified and structured passages.
While most bands quickly crumble after losing a frontman and vocalist, the truth is that Battles’ fundamental sound and appeal has remained consistent. After all, Braxton’s vocals were not intended to be a focal point for the band. His voice was often heavily processed, as it supported and blended in with experimental sounds. In Braxton’s absence, Battles brought in various guest vocalists to add focus to some songs on Gloss Drop. During live performances, the band played pre-recorded vocal tracks with the singer projected on screen.
Despite the trio’s overall virtuosity, the night was not without its flaws. Improperly set bass loops and occasional drifting out of unison with the looped melody created tense moments for the crowd. Much of the build-up was too muddled for the average listener and dragged on for too long.
The band’s frustration manifested itself throughout the show but the audience remained loyal, shouting praise all night long. But when the band locked in and hit those memorable riffs, it was something to behold.

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