Thursday May 5 was a concert I’d been hoping to see for the past three years: the return of Battles to Seattle. I’d been fortunate to see them at the (old) Crocodile Cafe back in 2007, and then again at Bumbershoot 2008 when they were unquestionably the most exciting act for the weekend. Now, after an unexpected extended delay due to the departure of vocalist-guitarist Tyondai Braxton, Battles have finally returned as a trio on tour in advance of their new album Gloss Drop, and they played a sold-out show at the (new) Crocodile with local artist IG88 opening.
IG88 is a solo electronic artist who played a set of warm lush trip-hop and downtempo techno. He was joined by a female singer for several of his songs, and her lovely voice floated and soared over his music quite nicely. Although the music was definitely danceable, only the slightest head-bobbing in the audience showed that people were attentive; it was strange to see people standing so still. IG88 mixed things up a bit (and surprised his vocalist) by switching to heavy dubstep for his last song, which came much too soon—his entire set lasted a mere 20 minutes. I enjoyed his set very much, and hope to see IG88 again soon playing a full-length set.
Battles started subtly, with Dave Konopka (bass, guitar) coming onstage and apparently tuning instruments while the stage techs were still setting up. But while he was onstage, the club music cut out and ambient music that could have been heavily modified guitar started playing instead; it sounded rather like more sedate music by IG88, actually. However, it was clearly introductory music by and for Battles, though unclear whether it was pre-recorded or actually set up and mixed live by Konopka. Konopka left the stage after a few minutes while the music carried on for several more, then finally all three members (the other two being Ian Williams on guitar and keyboards and John Stanier on drums) came out to blow everyone away with the furious precision of their rock.
Without Braxton, the band has turned to several guest vocalists for the new album, including Kazu Makino (of Blonde Redhead) and Gary Numan. These vocalists had some stage presence courtesy of dual video screens, with their video parts cued up by Williams. Williams also did a little live remixing of the vocals during the transitions between songs.
Battles if anything have gained in intensity and fierceness without losing intricacy or fun. Stanier’s manic drumming front-and-center was a natural focal point, though Williams and Konopka bopped around a bit and occasionally played to the audience. Mostly their performing style was understated—the trio barely paused between songs, often keeping some kind of musical line or beat going as a transition, and they didn’t even speak to the audience until just before the last song, though then they praised Seattle for having the best audience. But they didn’t need to make a big spectacle; they just let the power and beauty of the music carry the night. Battles did not play any of their older songs, leaving me still curious to hear what they’ll do with them. But it was understandable that they’d leave those out to focus on the strength of their new music, and that new music was more than satisfying. It was an amazing performance throughout, and although I hope I don’t have to wait another three years again for their next Seattle show, I know that however long it may be, it’ll be worth the wait.