One of the main reasons I wanted to see Battles in person was simple: I had to find out once and for all that there are in fact human beings behind this music. This half man-half machine math-rock super group - comprised of ex-Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams, ex-Lynx guitarist Dave Konopka, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton (son of avant-jazz man Anthony Braxton), and last but certainly not least, the bionic man himself, ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier - have crafted some of the decades most technically complex and accomplished music of the decade. Seamlessly blurring the line between rock, improv and electronic music, the band is a technical marvel, drowning in a sea of rainbow colored delay pedals, laptops and keyboards, all of which they use to tweak out their hypnotically motorik grooves and math-y arrangements. The fact that the band can so accurately replicate the sound of their ridiculously labyrinth albums is quite simple awe-inspiring.
Taking the stage at the criminally under-capacity Epicentre last night, Battles packed their equipment tightly together, setting Stanier's kit front and center. I'll tell you right now, coming face-to-face with Stanier's drum set and it's 6 foot tall high hat will put the fear of god in your heart. To call the band a well-oiled machine is an understatement - it's nearly impossible to know who is making what sound at any given time. Konopka stands behind the maelstrom, twiddling pedals and looping effects, while Braxton and Williams attack their guitars and stab at keyboards, all the while letting Stanier go all caveman on his poor drums. They stuck rather closely to songs from this year's groundbreaking and utterly stunning Mirrored, a strong contender for album of the year. "Rainbow", "Race:In", "Tonto" and the heart stopping "Leyendecker" were are rendered in mind boggling accuracy, with each member locked into an unspeakable symbiosis. And then there was "Atlas", which brought the small crowd to near frenzy with its chipmunk vocals and truly infectious hook. It was one of the best shows I've seen all year. A note to Battles though: Never play an all ages show again.