I first heard about Battles when warrenellis brought to my attention their video for "Atlas", a march for a "fascist Smurf society." It was certainly captivating, but when i later found out somehow that their drummer is John Stanier, once of Helmet, well, i was sold. Stanier's work on Helmet was top-notch, and he's one of my favorite drummers.
I was hoping that elmuchacho would join me at the show, but it was sold out, so i went in alone. The opening band, Ponytail, was terrible. Flat-out awful. The vocalist was a pint-size girl essentially imitating a strung-out-on-sugar Björk imitating Diamanda Galás, and the two guitarists emitted dork radiation. The songs themselves were disjoint and unlistenable; occasionally, the guitarists would put together a melody, but that only lasted for a few measures. Only their drummer, who was solid, saved them from being a total loss. I can't decide whether Ponytail, or watching Mark Eitzel open for Bob Mould, was the worst show i've ever seen.
Ponytail's set was eventually and mercifully over, and in between sets we were treated to a Speed Racer episode. Then Battles came on; first, it was just Konopka who came out, played a short time on the bass, and looped it. Then the rest of the band filtered in and everyone got to work. And they rocked the hell out of a very, very packed house, easily the fullest i've ever seen Slim's. I was surprised by the amount of women at the show, maybe about 40% of fans; i wouldn't've expected this kind of music to be popular among women. I only recognized two songs, "Atlas", which they played around the middle of their set, and "Bad Trails", which they played as their encore. One interesting piece of equipment was a huge square amp that had a microphone fixed to a bracket, pointing directly at the speaker. At one point in the show, i offered my spot to a guy with a nice camera who was having a tough time getting a good shot of the band because there was some 6'6" guy blocking his view. As the show was winding down, i asked him if he was putting the pictures online, and he said he was, so i asked him to send me the URL. Behold!
The whole band was dripping sweat by their second song, except for Stanier, whose black shirt and pants were drenched. He looked hot in every sense of the word; you watch him play his drums and see the expression on his face that belongs to a man who is consumed by playing drums, who cannot conceive of doing anything else. In the video, you might have noticed Stanier's unusually high placement for his
ride crash cymbal; that is how he had it set up on the stage as well. He plays it less often that way, and therefore it is more dramatic when he looks up and reaches up to smack it.
If it sounds good to you, they'll be back in SF at the Great American Music Hall in November.