Music Features

Battles: Live at Richards on Richards, Vancouver (04/07/07)

I can only assume that Battles suffer at feats such as brushing their teeth and filling coffee pots with water. Because live, they are a bionic yet organic mastodon of schizophrenic sound that makes me ponder their capacity for human error.

As orchestrated by a swarm of technical aficionados, the set-up was indeed a formulaic one. It was first marked by Stanier's (now trademark) yellow Tama claiming the center of the stage atop a black panther rug, and yes, the cymbal really was 6 feet in the air. With the Tama as the nucleus, a web of geometrically formulated distances led to assemble the remaining instruments on stage. Shortly thereafter the band proceeded to weave in intermittently, conducting a multiplicity of show-proceeding samples that ran into each other like a series of Mirrored mash-ups.

While the trials began to expend themselves, Ian Williams sat pending on the left hand side, drinking his bottle of translucent honey ale. Tyondai returned to assemble his Power Book and duct tape the amps, then left. In turn, John Stanier took to his drum set and began a marching soliloquy, perplexing the audience despite failing to expel the overhead music. This rhythmic domination proved to still be, indeed, a warm-up. Some quarter of an hour later, with everyone back on stage to witness Tyondai's final mic setting adjustments, Ian cut his hand over his neck in sincere prudence to motion it was time to get on with it. They left.

Dave Konopka was the first to return, and he initiated the introduction alone on stage with by a cue from his guitar. He played a familiar run of notes, threw them on his delay pedal, and then dropped the loop again through his mixer. And so it began with Race: Out. The streaming incline drew all the members towards each other like figurines on sliding tracks as they fused themselves into a colossus. And from there until they left, time gave way to fascination:

Tyondai played his guitar like he played the keyboard; fingers darting around, lanky and flat as though they were two hands running across the same plane of white keys. Though the periodic sampling of his recorded vocals fractured their lustre, the songs he sang live brought out each elected molecule like a pierce to his threshold. Ian Williams responded as though in a schism, between them a fickle battle that led to the erratic precision of Tonto and Snare Hanger. The two reached their epitome on Tij, working like a hydrogen-fused debacle of frenetic energy. Ian's instrumental synergy and ability to amalgamate himself into such a pulsating force is a feat I have only seen so holistically encapsulated by Johnny Greenwood, live with Radiohead. His guitar parts jumped from the instrument that rode his torso like a neck tie while he jerked at his keyboard as though throwing axes, tweaking to each slaughtered note.

Meanwhile, Stanier's drums were refined to bellow the perfect pitch. Atlas started with his flawless roll in, the onset as smooth as fan-shuffling a deck of cards. Tyondai pushed his vocal chords while working his hands as though to mimic a choreographed Broadway musical; summoning the energy of the audience with motions par to his metaphysical grip.

Race: In and Tij proved the most incendiary of highlights, and though two tracks were played from their previous EP's, the majority of the songs came from Mirrored. As the show burgeoned on, my eyes grew wider and wider, my jaw dropped lower; and I established the supreme privilege of my coordinates.

The ending was bittersweet. Konopka came out and initiated the encore the same way the show began, looping his guitar into what appeared to be the beginning of Bad Trails. But shortly thereafter, Stanier broke from the side door (with Braxton lurking behind), motioning to Konopka with the beheading symbol that it was over. And they were gone. It seems the show went full circle back to hand motions of slitting the throat.

Konopka quickly came back to turn off what he had started, apologizing without the feeling of proclivity that there was no more to be had, "for technical reasons." Oh Konopka, I am sorry. I saw Stanier leave his seat only once during the set - and that was to fix the fan, a failed attempt that was followed by its prompt removal by the stagehand. In consideration of John's relentless rhythmic foundations that poured like Olympic endurance as he sat beating, beating, beating (his shirt saturated in sweat)...I can only form a conjecture on the exact logistics of this abrupt ending.

But I hold not a fractured vein. I was so awestruck that I had to run my adrenaline off en route to the SkyTrain, fueled by the desire to alert anyone I knew that should they have the slightest chance to make a Battles show, to go - really. I think they tapped into eternity and negative space at the same time; not to mention every moment of every day in my pretty, little life.