Sunday, May 20, 2007

Battles - 15/05/2007@AB, Brussel

Tyondai Braxton - g, kb, voc
Ian Williams - kb, g
Dave Konopka - el b, g
John Stanier - d

So this is math-rock? I'd always expected something more... boring to fall under that genre heading. I mean, it wasn't all that mathematical: people were dancing - furiously - as tightly-coiled motifs locked together like funk and fell out of phase, like minimalism (one four-handed keyboard passage was almost worthy of Nico Muhly). There was a welcome confluence of electronica's obsession with constructing grooves out of improbable sounds and mutating loops and free-funk's desire to hew rhythm out of noise.

They swerved sharply from one section to another, but also frequently stopped to pound a frenetic groove into the ground. Some naïve, percussive keyboard melodies from Ian Williams and Tyondai Braxton's heavily distorted and upwards pitch-shifted singing and whistling brought a wild edge. If there was a sense of abandon, it was a meticulously-constructed one.

A comment on the crowd reaction in Nate Chinen's review intrigues me: "Near the base of the stage some fans bounced happily on their heels. That may not seem like much of a response, but it was." No, it wasn't. The Ancienne Belgique crowd was doing a lot more than happily bouncing on its heels. Then again, we can't compete with the elder Braxton turning up for the gig.

Coca-Cola Met God (met means with in Dutch; Coca-Cola and God are self-evident) is a duo with a guy from Millionaire on guitar, laptop and vocals and Eric Thielemans (last seen at a memorable Maak's Spirit concert) on drums that opened with a 30-minute set that was rougher and wilder than Battles': harsh and squealing, but fun, too. Their abandon was savage rather than meticulous and slightly surreal: when the singer donned a large white Venetian carnival mask and a draped himself in a large green cloth, it made his incomprehensible, massively distorted rantings, which ranged from screaming to proto-rapping, seem all the more superbly deranged.

Thielemans, in short red shorts and an appropriate sweater (pictures of both members' get-ups are displayed on their MySpace page), started with thudding rhythms that seemed simple but constantly reshuffled the beat, keeping the power high and the groove alluringly elusive. The second of three "songs" built up slabs of guitar noise and a chaotic undertow, then stutteringly blew it all apart. The final piece brought the volume down with tranquil looped guitar picking and incomprehensible vocals that evoked the distressed sound of the voice of a long-lost bluesman emanating from a barely-functioning 78 rpm record.

Some cool photos from the event.