Hi-hat happiness: Battles impress at the Crocodile

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Judging by Battles’ stop at the Crocodile on Thursday night, the three-piece is one of two things: supremely confident in their new material, or completely terrified of performing their old material without a vocalist.

Whatever the case, it didn’t much matter for fans of the New York techno-rock experimentalists, who head-banged, squealed, and utterly enjoyed what turned out to be an exclusive showcase of songs from Gloss Drop, their new album set for a June 7 release.

The buzz around the room beforehand was how the band would handle more well-known songs like “Atlas” and “Tonto,” which featured now departed vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton. Afterwards it was evident that Battles is content leaving those songs as their past, perhaps because the group no longer has four members to pull off the myriad of sounds that make up their previous catalog.

Luckily opener “Africastle,” the first track on Gloss Drop, gave the set an immediate shot in the arm. While guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams and guitarist/bassist Dave Konopka were busy creating the song’s key textures, percussionist John Stanier started the show in a crouch behind his drums, mechanically shaking bells for a few solid minutes. And when his cue came, Stanier assumed the position behind his six-piece kit and slammed his way through the muscular, sinister epic.

Stanier, who made his name with seminal alt-metal band Helmet, was an example of hyper-coordination throughout the night, sending off non-verbal cues to his bandmates all while getting the most out of his kick/snare/hi-hat combos (and sending tiny pieces of wood flying through the air from the sheer force of his drum-stick hits). Also, one has not lived until they’ve seen the veteran drummer hit his signature six foot-high crash cymbal from four feet away.

Williams and Konopka also did their share of juggling multiple duties, whether it was Konopka switching from guitar to bass mid-song while still managing loops and echo settings, or Williams simultaneously playing guitar and synth lines, or even two keyboards at the same time (one for each hand, situated on either side of his body).

As for vocals, Battles gets bonus points for creativity and execution. On three of the four songs that featured vocals — “Sweeting & Shag” (featuring Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Mikino), “Ice Cream” (featuring Matias Aguayo), and “My Machine” (featuring the legendary Gary Numan) — the group cleverly queued up pre-recorded close-up videos of each vocalist singing their way through the song, which were displayed on seven-foot-tall vertical screens positioned in between amp cabinets.

“Sweetie & Shag” and “My Machine” were certainly highlights, with the latter benefitting from Numan’s no-nonsense approach to his video, which was full of menacing, middle-aged vampire death stares. Stanier seemed to feed off that energy, and added extra rage and angst to beat the ever-living hell out of his drums during the song’s four minutes. “Ice Cream,” the lead single off Gloss Drop, got a sizable reaction from the crowd, which bounced to and fro for the danceable but bone-crushing bubblegum techno jam. The encore of “Sundome” was a near misstep, however, suffering from nearly 10 minutes of random sonic experimentation. But the swirling synths, room-rattling bass and pounding percussion eventually hit a climax that was otherworldly.

As the three members left the stage, a well-inebriated crowd member bellowed, “The Battles of the spirits is complete!” And he couldn’t have been more right

Brent Stecker

About Brent Stecker

Brent is a journalist and small-time musician based in Wenatchee, Wash. His passion for music wasn’t discovered until his teenage years, however, when he first got his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD. He spent the rest of his adolescence broadening his musical tastes, obsessively learning guitar, and harnessing his writing abilities in journalism classes.