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Photos by David Herman & David Fischman

Built to Spill, Marnie Stern, Ponytail

The Launchpad,  Albuquerque, NM, June 27th, 2007

Jun 27, 2007 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

I’ve had some pretty major changes in the past month. I moved to Albuquerque from Oakland. I bought a house. And on June 16, my wife gave birth to our son, Nigel. This is the first show I’ve gone to since all of these changes.

Now, I got into Battles because of drummer John Stanier, who was a hero to me in Helmet when I was first starting to play in bands in the early ’90s. Little did I know that I was about to walk into a drumfest at the Launchpad. I got there quite a bit early to hang out alone and have a few beers—alone time being at a premium with a new son. After several PBRs and a few games of Ms. Pacman, Ponytail took the stage.

The Baltimore four-piece featured two noisy, Boredoms-inspired guitarists, a great, flailing, spastic drummer, and an amazing grunter/howler vocalist. The brilliant and trebly guitar freak-outs were matched in perfect time by the drummer, creating a powerful commotion for singer Molly Sigel to shout, growl, and coo over. Like a white, female, pint-sized version of Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson, Sigel was incredibly expressive whether she was clutching a carrot(?) during the beginning of their set or going totally bonkers on their closing song by doing screaming jump squats. Their debut album Kamehameha is available on Monitor Records, and while it will give you a good idea of what the band is all about, they are a group to be enjoyed live rather than on your home stereo.

Next up was guitar-witch Marnie Stern, whose band consisted of Robby Moncrieff (Who’s Your Favorite Son God, The Advantage) on second guitar and international spazz drummer of the decade Zach Hill (Hella and a million other bands). While the iPod she was using for a back-up band might have worked out great (and saved on tour expenses), both live musicians were perfectly suited to match Stern’s blazing fingertap-riffic shredding. Take the wankiest technical solos of Eddie Van Halen, compose songs around them, and you have Marnie Stern. Her debut album In Advance of the Broken Arm is out on Kill Rock Stars. It’s really fucking good.

Finally, Battles took the stage: a supergroup to end all, in my book. While Stanier holds down the fort with backbreaking backbeats, David Konopka (Lynx) combines loops, effects, and live playing on guitar and bass. These two guys alone could probably blow my mind, but throw in Tyondai Braxton (solo avant loop master) and Ian Williams (Storm and Stress, Don Caballero) on keyboards and guitars—often simultaneously—and you have enough extreme syncopation to make a drummer go crazy.

Their live show consisted almost entirely of songs from their much anticipated full-length, Mirrored (Warp), my favorite album of the year so far. Because they are pulling these songs off live rather than in a studio environment, most of the loops need to be built from scratch, so while Stanier starts a song, Braxton will be getting his effected vocals looped, or Konopka will be hunched down, getting a sample of his bass ready to pop in. When everything is flowing midway through a song, the effect is mesmerizing—four heads bopping along to different sixteenth notes in the pattern. Songs like “Atlas” with its propulsive floor tom beat and Oompa-Loompa vocals (thanks, Pace), or the maniacal breakdowns and nightmare keyboards of “Tij,” were incredible in a live setting. Watching the always well-dressed Stanier soak himself with sweat and the scarecrow dances of both Braxton and Williams only added to the effect.

I can’t recommend seeing this band enough. Due to the nature of the supergroup, it’s only a matter of time before each individual finds himself in another project, leaving Battles dead on the field.

While the show wasn’t sold out, there were plenty of people in the house, all giving their rapt attention. Lots of folks were dancing, as opposed to the folded-arms standoff of San Francisco, and some major gear lust occurred among the obvious music dorks. All in all, a great night and a wonderful introduction to the Albuquerque scene.

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