People were on a mission to see Battles at Studio B on July 20, and the sold-out crowd endured much to accomplish that mission. At the last minute, the show, which was supposed to start in the early evening, was pushed back and melded into the club’s weekly late-night Friday jam known as FUN. London’s Noisettes opened the show, and FUN resident deejays played a disjointed collection of electro and cheesy classic house in between live bands.
Battles’ proper opening band, the Singers, provided the greatest challenge to the audience. It’s like the members were daring the audience to actually stand there and take what was being dished out. I felt like the dapper gents in their button-down shirts and cut-off ties were playing a huge joke on the restless hundreds standing below. They proceeded to strum their instruments nonchalantly, getting progressively more freeform after each song until finally exchanging instruments and swinging them about onstage, playing intermittent chords with no rhyme or reason. I’m for avant-garde as much as the next Brooklynite is, but there is a fine line between art with a purpose and strutting around the stage like a bunch of idiots. The widespread boos following their finale sealed the deal.
By the time Battles took the stage after 1 a.m., the club was packed and hungry for substance. And boy, did the band deliver. Call it math rock, art rock, prog rock — call it whatever you want — Battles turned it out. Situated center stage, drummer John Stanier, formerly of Helmet, was the star of the show. Carrying the complex grooves through a multitude of time signatures and beating those drums mercilessly, he had bodies moving with every hit. His crash cymbal was elevated high above the drum set for effect, but with his imposing frame, he reached it effortlessly.
Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton provided his now-familiar chipmunk style vocals intermittently, acting simply as another instrument to twist beyond recognition. He deftly wielded all three elements, sometimes within the same song. This is a testament to the band’s distinct quality the musicians challenge themselves with experimentation but don’t forget that the music needs to remain inviting in some way.
By the time the band began to play “Atlas,” the crowd was hooked. Perhaps it was a need to rock out after the painful opening band, or perhaps it was due to the sway of alcohol at nearly two in the morning, but the entirety of Studio B’s packed crowd jumped up and down with all their might, hands clapping in unison when “Atlas” came on. It was a wonderful sight and a testament to Battles’ well-deserved popularity.