Battles, Nisennenmondai Fitzgerald's October 20, 2011
Lately, this here fella in Rocks Off has been gravitating towards music with few or minimal words. Maybe a few yelps. Howls. Bloody-murder screams: The Fucking Champs, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Sunn0))), Don Caballero, just to name a few. Sick of lyrics? A little bit? Looking for something to sink our mental teeth into and not worry about a message? Sure. There are a lot of messages being thrown around, right and left, and for once we are looking for a landscape to peer into and not someone on a pulpit.
Enter Battles, whose Gloss Drop is one of the best albums of the year, and only features vocals on four tracks and they aren't intrusive. Thursday night's gig at Fitzgerald's, heavily trafficked by guys in black glasses and ear plugs - ahem - was one of those hearty shows that we long for at least once a week. A "sitter," we like to call them, where you sit in the balcony and let the lights and music scorch your eyes and you clap in between songs and mean it.
Japanese openers Nisennenmondai turned in 45 minutes of driving, trance-like drums, bass, and noise work that pushed grown men to dance alone. Nisennenmondai make sounds that make you dance out of a compulsion. It wasn't as if these people saw something else moving and then out of public courtesy did so themselves.
We would find ourselves kicking a leg out and bobbing our heads instinctively. No words, no pleasantries, just straight-ahead. No nostalgia. When our brain would ask for a guitar solo, or a cymbal flare, we didn't get it, and we were happy. Surprises are good.
Battles is made up of three guys with quasi-metal backgrounds. Drummer John Stanier, he of the impossibly tall ride cymbal, did 10 years with Helmet. Guitarist and keyboardist Ian Williams was in Don Caballero for eight years, and noise-maker and master of everything else Dave Konopka made his mark in Lynx.
Thursday night's show centered on June's Gloss Drop, and the stage's two LCD screens - plasma, LED, we dunno, we just got a flat-screen TV ourselves a year ago - showed crystal-clear images behind the band, including that pink blob that graces Gloss' cover, and other artwork from the band's previous EPs and full-length, 2007's Mirrored.
"Atlas", from Mirrored, was an early stomping highlight, with the crowd testing the venue floor for sturdiness.
The guest voices from the Gloss album appeared on the dual screens in recorded form. Gary Numan's visage, kohl-stained pale white weathered skin and jet-black hair, hearkened back to his classic "Cars" video, with his vacant glances and a slight smirk.
Battles was loud as hell too, which explained the union of NASA-looking duders on the balcony with Rocks Off looking on like we were at a teaching hospital. Exchange a bottle of Lone Star for the Junior Mints. Our teeth vibrating a few times, loosening the plaque in between them.
Go to a Battles show in a small club and save money on dental visits. You should still brush, though.
Personal Bias: Live music is the best.
The Crowd: We took off our eyeglasses in the middle of the show because we wanted to rebel against the norm.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Overheard In the Crowd: Before the encore guitarist Williams was talking to the crowd to stall time and he asked about Rick Perry, which was answered by playful boos and someone throwing a nickel at his face. "Houston: We Will Throw Coins At Your Fucking Face"
Random Notebook Dump: This grandpa really enjoyed his balcony view of the first half of the show because pot smoke rises.