Keeping score of Battles’ musical configuration from album to album can be perplexing, but the effort is more than worth the confusion. They began as an instrumental band (EP C), to add vocals (Mirrored), then lose vocalist Tyondai Braxton. For their latest, Gloss Drop, they’ve featured a whole host of guest vocalists. As Battles is now a trio featuring founding members Ian William (Don Caballero), John Stainer (Helmet), and Dave Konopka (Lynx); they must answer the question, “How do we recreate an album of guest vocalists live?” And more importantly, will Gary Numan come along and let us use his jet?

The Mayan – Los Angeles, CA – 17 October 2011

Tokyo-based Nisennenmondai opened the show. Like Battles, they are a trio of experimental sound — composed of dainty Japanese women. These ladies played a set of repetitively driving, sometimes spacey, sometimes danceable loops and builds that agreeably held their own as support for Battles. The real spectacle of their set was the diverse rhythms of Sayaka Himeno, as her delicate butterfly taps would give way to nimble yet speedy lashings of the high-hat, so potent that her drumming almost overshadowed the rest of the group. Taking place in a venue that looks more like a life-size He-Man action figure play set than downtown LA club, the night’s weirdness reached its peak when Battles took the stage.

Battles

When you see Battles live, remember that song structure and timing are malleable concepts for the band, similar to the way their line-up can be amended. With two video screens backing them and plenty of staggering lighting cues from the illuminated terraces of the stage, the band’s songs became reactions of lush color and fog machines in the air.

The first guest to join the band on stage for an offering off of Gloss Drop? Why, it was Blonde Redhead’s Kazo Makino for “Sweetie & Shag” via video screen, her facial visage pre-recorded for the band’s slippery warping of her vocals after the track’s initial choruses.


John Stainer, from ATP Festival 2011, Asbury Park, by Vivian Hua

The band followed with other versions of hits like “Tonto” and “Atlas” off of Mirrored, all while multi-instrumentalist Ian Williams swayed and clowned over the dual keyboards flanking him. Looking like a mustached conductor, Williams’ amusing guitar manipulations were only broken by launches of Stainer’s tight frenetic rhythms. Other digital guests on the screens included Matias Aguayo for “Ice Cream,” and Gary Numan for “My Machines,” Numan being the more ghastly of the two.

The band’s encore of “Sundome” was without the face of Yamantaka Eye to accompany it, but showed the band’s continuous uncomplicated reformulation of their songs live. In solving the problem of how to bring their guest vocalists on tour, Battles has declared not only that there is no set formula for a song, but that there is also no set rule for who gets to take part in it.

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