NYC-based Battles led a blistering charge at Vancouver’s The Rickshaw Theatre July 23rd, playing their newest album Gloss Drop in its entirety to a packed crowd of devotees and music fans. This show was their first in Vancouver since vocalist Tyondai Braxton left the band last year, leaving ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier and guitarists Ian Williams and Dave Knopka to soldier on with their revered live shows.
As such, some fans were curious to see how the band would fare live without Braxton on board. After all, losing a member of the group can change the on-stage dynamics in a big way. But if anything, it just caused Battles to put on a tighter, more intense show that moved forward at a breakneck pace and didn’t let up. There wasn’t one point during the set where anyone in the eclectic crowd looked bored or disinterested. Everyone’s faces were forward, heads bobbing, hands waving, just immersed in the wall of sound hitting them.
Speaking of “wall of sound,” that was all courtesy of John Stanier. Watching Stanier drum is akin to having a religious experience. With his head down and cymbal raised high, Stanier becomes the focal point for the show; it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. He is merciless with his pummeling, a jackhammer that only pauses before reaching up for the dramatic crash of his high cymbal hit.
That’s not to say Knopka and Williams didn’t shine in their own way. Knopka had the crowd in stitches every time he took over the microphone to address the crowd and Williams had his own kicky dance moves as he moved between playing a set of keyboards and a guitar at the same time, skillful fingers flying everywhere. The trio played off each other with great energy and moved throughout their set with an easy synergy that gave the hungry fans something to feed off of.
Because their latest Gloss Drop is mainly instrumental with just a few guest vocals sprinkled throughout, I had wondered beforehand how Battles were going to handle the singing points without a permanent vocalist. Turns out it was easy. The band had screens behind their set-up that showed the giant faces of Kazu Makino, Matias Aguayo and Gary Numan singing along to their respective songs. It was a nice way of tying in the artists while keeping the feel of a live performance. Though I have to admit, watching a close-up of a garish-looking Gary Numan during the hard-hitting “My Machines” was a little unnerving at times.
At the end of the show, when Stanier had soaked through his shirt and the crowd’s collective breath was heaving, Williams dedicated their last song, “Sundome,” to Amy Winehouse, who had died just earlier that day. It was a touching tribute and a “give it your all” ending to a show that left concertgoers just as sweaty as Stanier, with just enough energy left to want to do it all over again.
Sweetie & Shag