By Rya Backer
Battles, the twitchy math rock band whose 2007 debut Mirrored made huge waves among both the indie rock and dance communities, play exciting and inventive music with minimal vocals and song structure. So it was really no surprise that when I saw them Friday night (September 4) at New York’s Terminal 5 for Warp20 — the birthday party for Warp Records, the English label and home to electronic pioneers like Broadcast, Aphex Twin and Anti-Pop Consortium — that they delivered an incredibly well-polished and curious gig. It was the first show the quartet had played in their native New York in over a year and their only North American show of 2009. They promised to debut new compositions at this very special show, and they delivered.
Early on in their set, Battles stuck to scorchers from their debut, like “Atlas,” “Race: In,” “Dance” and “Leyendecker,” which played seamlessly into the night’s standout, “Tonto.” Drummer John Stanier looked pained for the better part of the set (namely during “Race: In” as he kept his head down for the song’s duration), keeping a fluctuating time behind his yellow drum kit. Guitarist Ian Williams and vocalist Tyondai Braxton manned both a guitar neck and keyboard during certain songs, while Dave Konopka furiously played both bass and guitar (though sadly never at the same time).
Among the new works played were tracks called “Sweetie and Shag” (a vocal and bass-heavy track), “SDICT” (which starts as a sparse set of back-and-forths between Braxton, Williams and Konopka and eventually comes to a crescendo when Stanier’s drums kick in) and “Sanford and Son” (which features Williams playing a loop in the middle of the song that sounds like what would happen if an accordion and a harmonica had a child — this was by far the best-received moment of the evening). Though it initially sounded out of place, the band played around it, letting the music evolve into something entirely different by the end.
The new songs were thrilling but also somewhat reassuring to the diehards in the crowd, as it was proof that Battles haven’t gone all “Jazz Odyssey” on us. Rather, they’ve further discovered their sound and have taken freer reign in deconstructing it. See them when they’re in your town, and look forward to the perpetual closer “Atlas,” which turns any concert into the kind of amazing dance party you’d have in your freshman dorm.