New York City's Battles masterfully improvised their way inside and out of their debut album Mirrored Thursday night for a sold out crowd at the Crocodile CafÃ© in Seattle America. The undeniable star of the program was John Stanier, a fellow South Florida boy and once premiere skin slapper for Helmet, who interminably taught a jawdropping clinic on how to absolutely devastate an unsuspecting drum kit. The lookalike of "Shooter McGavin" from Happy Gilmore, Stanier sweated like hell throughout the hour long set, ferociously smacking the drums with a warrior's vengeance, accurately pegging his extended cymbal which shivered in fear some 8-feet above the stage.
Young Tyondai Braxton, with his frizzy afro and introverted demeanor, looked like a timid child who feared to ask for seconds like some Oliver Twist orphan. Braxton dazzled the Seattle sell outs with his ambidextrous skills, fingering keys with one hand while noodling his guitar with the other, while holding a green pick firmly between his mumbling lips. The passive young Braxton would hum his brisk and eerie vocals then quickly loop them onto one of two Apple computers that, along with dozens of machines and electronics, littered the compact setting inside the Croc.
The dexterous crew of improvisationalists organically entered and exited each song captured on the Warp release Mirrored with skillful ingenuity, drifting in an out of "Tonto" "Leyendecker" and the seven minute opus "Atlas" as if they were exploring rooms of a haunted mansion. Timing is a vital necessity for these crafty musicians. The fluidity of each song, how they transitioned from one blast to the next, was locked in air tight with a devil's grip thanks to the miraculous display of expertise from Stanier. I can't stress the amazement on the faces of those Seattle scuzzies enough. Fuck Helmet, Stanier should be remembered for being the omnipotent core of this mind bending quartet.
Battles are a clear picture of how the musical guard must change. Braxton's purposeful misuse of voice, created on the fly with looping vocodors intertwined with Stanier's relentless thwacking of the drums, topped with the wicked guitar/bass of Dave Konopka plus the chilling energy that flew from the hands of ex-Don Caballero kid Ian Williams, combined to the highlight the brutal complexity of this abstruse band of technologic renegades.
For a long time I thought that this project belonged to Braxton, but no, clearly it does not. This was and will continue to be the Mark Stanier show, a stick wielder who hits better than Dave Grohl or maybe even Muhammad Ali. With brittle Braxton and machismo Stanier performing side by side, it was like watching Michelangelo Buonarroti paint a portrait alongside Domenico Ghirlandaio on the amorous shores of Italy, or something just as beautiful.
"Atlas" (live at the Empty Bottle Chicago 03/07)