Battles’ last appearance on Irish soil was to an excited audience at dusk, in a tent at Electric Picnic last year. Probably not the first act you would think of as a “festival band”, the trio were one of the highlights of the weekend with anyone there (including myself) citing their performance as one to remember. With that 40 minute set still fresh in the minds of probably everyone in the Button Factory, the feeling of excitement for this performance is tangible.
Opening up for Battles is the absorbing, overlapping sounds of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (who could potentially be the most interesting artist you could stumble upon). A Berklee College of Music graduate, Smith is trained in composition, sound engineering, classical guitar, piano and vocals but it was the synthesizer that she gravitated towards in the end, resulting in music that has been carefully put together with a focus on dynamics and structure.
As with a lot of electronic based acts, the potential to lather a venue – and the people inside it – with waves of sound is realised here, with low synth bass lines vibrating the air just enough to make everyone notice, while arpeggiated melodies are dotted on top.
It’s always a tough role to support a full band as an electronic solo performer and unfortunately the crowd reaction seems to solidify this view. Attentive? Yes, but engaged? Not really. A wonderful performance of sonic atmosphere no doubt, but perhaps this is just the wrong venue/night.
When Battles do take to the stage, the New York trio play something of an unexpected set. Although on a touring cycle for their newest release La Di Da Di, the majority of the songs played are from their back catalogue with even guitarist/keys player Ian Williams stating after ‘Hi/Lo’ that it’s the first live outing of the track in ten years.
The older material is of course a welcome surprise but as this show is Battles’ first night of their European tour, there are fractions of the performance that slip ever so slightly. Gaps between songs are sometimes longer then intended as drummer John Stanier seems at times frustrated as he waits for his band members to catch up. While elsewhere, some transitions that feel off are confirmed by members of the band throwing each other small smiles, saying without words “I heard that”.
To be fair though, this is nit picking. Battles are brilliant at what they do and when there is a moment where it slips, they are honest about it and shrug it off with a quick joke to the crowd, “…we’ll nail it tomorrow night.”
Tracks from 2011 release Gloss Drop are well received as the band warp everyone’s eardrums with ‘Futura’ while ‘Ice Cream’ goes down a treat, with the audience smiling as its intro builds up. ‘Atlas’ (the track that launched Battles into the limelight) perhaps doesn’t have the same impact tonight as it usually does but it’s more to do with its position in the set than anything else.
The band really hit their stride when playing material from La Di Da Di. ‘Dot Net’ squeaks and phases in and out while Stanier holds a solid beat behind it all. ‘Summer Simmer’ is irresistibly funky and Dave Konopka’s chorus-filled guitar fills the audible space beautifully. The night is closed with lead single ‘The Yabba’ which builds and crescendos until all three members are almost thrashing onstage with Stanier unleashing his last bit of energy on his seven-foot high cymbal.
Perhaps not their strongest performance in terms of set list order but it’s still a complete joy to watch these three play together. While completely individual players in their own right, they somehow fuse ideas together to make a coherent, unique sound. If their set at Electric Picnic is a taste of what to come at this year’s Forbidden Fruit, you would be well advised to catch them.
Battles photographed for State by Leah Carroll