It’s not every day that a band of Battles’ calibre rocks up in our humble city, and tonight they are determined to show us what we’ve been missing at the expense of ‘bigger’ cities (Cambridge, Nottingham, Brighton?!). Because Sheffield is so often short changed in the touring department, I have to admit that I was apprehensive about what we would get here at Plug tonight, especially given acrimonious member splits and a lukewarm reception for their new record. How wrong I was.
If surprises at every turn was the theme of the night, then support band Walls were the first to get this underway. Despite the audience being absolutely oblivious to the newcomers, their hazy, infectious brand of dancey electronica did a hell of a lot to justify the considerable hype that their new release, Coracle has been garnering. The amount of laptop-based artists vomiting woozy lo-fi sounds without leaving anything even slightly memorable seem to be multiplying by the day, soon we won’t be able to move through the street for them, but for now we can sleep at night knowing Walls are leading the fightback. Lead track off the album ‘Heat Haze’ serves gentle backing beats acting as a bed for the duo to explore warm lo-fi electronic tangents. Wunderbar.
Then we come to Battles themselves, and they take to the stage with a rapturous reception from a packed out audience. Perhaps conscious of how strange the band looks without former leader Braxton up on stage, they immediately seek to remedy this. Within two or three songs it is apparent that this is going to be a show heavy on tracks from their second album Gloss Drop, after the Braxton era. And while a great many in the audience will remember the tight, experimental masterpiece Mirrors with huge fondness, there is no debating that the emphasis on the smoother and more dance influenced Gloss Drop is a masterstroke. Tracks that initially proved too difficult to get under the skin of on record become enormous triumphs. The futuristic rave of ‘My Machines’ and the more playful and jangly ‘Ice Cream’ have a new lease of life in them, something that pays off with an electric audience reaction.
You may have noticed that these are two tracks off the new album that feature guest vocals, something still relatively new to Battles, and something that nerdy rock goons who delighted in the intelligence of Mirrored loved to hate on Gloss Drop. But it works, and is brought into the live set through a cool screen at the back of the stage with featured guest vocalists heads singing along when needed. ‘Atlas’ and ‘Tonto’ received the biggest cheers of the night, but that was always inevitable. At the risk of sounding like a philistine, perhaps this is where the future of Battles lies. Sure, they’re never going to write a ‘Poker Face’, and no one wants them to lose their sense of weirdness, but the more Battles open up to their dance leanings, the more accessible and fun they become. I mean, come on, math-rock was so 2008 anyway.