Photo by Keiko Hirakawa
Intricate songs lead to simple, pure pleasure
Saying that Battles live show is “simple” initially reads as gross an understatement as possible — the trio’s music relies on intricate loops, precise guitar playing and thundering percussion. It’s music that, if one element were slightly ajar, would collapse in on itself. And the New York group doesn’t make it any easier on themselves live, as they do everything right on the spot, the members bending over equipment and talking it out with one another like engineers. The final product can sound every bit as complex, sounds twisting and turning into things you’d never expect a guitar or keyboard to produce.
Yet despite the challenge of putting it together and pulling it off, Battles headlining set on the White Stage Sunday night felt simple in comparison to many of the other big moments at Fuji Rock this year. Context dictated that — this was the 20th anniversary, and many of the biggest performers had ties to the original incarnation of the gathering. Other artists, meanwhle, leaned more towards spectacle than anything else (Babybmetal, having played the White Stage only a few hours before Battles, being the prime example of this). But this was just three guys playing intricate rock songs, seeing what new sounds they could draw out of their instruments (or, in the case of drummer John Stanier, pound the hell out of his drum kit). And Battles are just the best at that.
Their set was one of build and release, one full of tension giving way to tight rhythms that had the large crowd bopping around. The wait for those huge moments could take some time — Dave Konopka spent a lot of time fiddling with knobs, getting just the right sounds and loops going — but when the Technicolor whirl of “Ice Cream” or the locked-in center of “Futura” hit, it was all the sweeter. Battles balanced technical skill with a sense of anything-could-happen-next, the sudden tempo changes and pivots keeping the audience on their toes. And it reached a peak on the pulverizing “Atlas,” a stomper that had the crowd moving in unison and shouting back robot gibberish at the stage. Again, none of it came simple…but it delivered a pure type of excitement without any added baggage.