Battles with Palace of Fire – The Opera Theatre, 30th May 2009

There has been a bit of a furore of late over Premier Nathan Rees’ choice to have Brain Eno curate the inaugural three week run of the Luminous festival rather than secure Tiger Woods to play golf for three days. But the intellectually feeble and culturally arid views of the ignorant sector of the Australian public aside, Luminous is amazing and the festival’s opening performance from Battles was even better.

The evening began well before we arrived at the Opera House, with The MCA, Customs House and other areas of Circular Quay having been incorporated into light art installations. The Opera House was the centre piece with it’s sails illuminated with Technicolor designs projected from either side, leaving ethereal clouds of greenish light floating above the water.

Arriving at The Opera House and taking our seats, opening band Palace Of Fire took the stage. They are made up of the rhythm section of Wolfmother with guitarist and singer Matt Blackman from Charge Group rounding out the effect-filler trio. Starting out with a heavy Tool meets Jesus & Mary Chain sound I was rocking in my seat until about halfway through when the set inexplicably went sour. I don’t know what it was as, aside from a few songs with lacklustre and repetitive riffs and Matt Blackman’s vocals taking a decidedly emo turn, the band delivered a powerful and interesting set.

It was easy to see why Eno chose them to play, as the band’s wide ranging use of effects, feedback and synth as well as the shifting feel and mood of the music was well in line with an Eno-esque interpretation of modern rock. They need to spend more time jamming, but despite a somewhat shaky performance I think this band could well be worth watching. The bassist is a demon in any regard and I will be waiting to see what he does next with baited breath.

Now, on to Battles. How to describe the band? Some insane perpetual motion machine powered by angry Smurfs. Some time space anomaly. Four incredibly skilled musicians constructing intricate musical pathways through your brain at the speed of light. Any of these or other ridiculous descriptions all fall short. Battles are something to be seen and heard.

Ex Tomahawk and Helmet Drummer and modern god-of-the-skins John Stainer is without a doubt the centrepiece of the musical surrealism that is Battles. Churning out scrotum-shaking levels of torque, Stainer is the human metronome of the band; the heart beat which powers the many limbed goliath that is Battles.

His mind-felchingly syncopated rhythms in Race In, Leyendecker and countless others boggle the mind and moisten the loins. He looks like a 1950s sweater model, but by the end of the show he is a frantic sweating mess, incomprehensibly still moving. The man is a god and should be given perky virgins weekly to ensure that his genes live on.

The show itself makes me feel the way it must have felt to bike race in Tron. Fast paced, hair raising, neon coloured and potentially fatal. Watching as the guitarist/keyboardist/effects wizard/loop genii of the band bounce around the stage in a polyrhythmic orgiastic frenzy it’s easy to lose your self in the band’s hypnotic presence.

The band is by no means perfect though. They take the time to ensure each loop is in time, carefully building up the solid base on which they later dance, and watching them communicate on the stage through gesture and at times even their instruments, you can see that this band does indeed possess some sort of hive mind.

If you’ve never heard of Battles, get on the net now and buy Mirrored. If you have Mirrored get the EPs. If you have the EPs, well… wait for the next album.

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