May 29, 2005

Live: Prefuse 73, Battles and Beans, The Parish, Austin, Texas, May 27, 2005

This was an incredible triple bill. I got to the Parish shortly after the doors opened, and was shocked to see that a line had already formed. When I saw fellow Warp Records artists Autechre at the Parish two days before, it took a while for the standing area to fill up. Some friends of mine speculated that Prefuse 73 drew a bigger crowd because they’re more accessible, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Autechre’s last Austin show sold out way in advance, and that was back when they were supporting Confield, which is arguably their weirdest album.

Anyway, when opening act Beans walked on the stage, the Parish was already 75% full. This was the third time I’ve seen him live, but it was the first in which he didn’t wear a hat and sunglasses, choosing instead of let the audience see his bald, brown forehead drip with sweat. It was also the first time he managed not to confuse everyone with his fast (and occasionally marble-mouthed) delivery. Although two or three people in the audience booed him, they were clearly in the minority. Overall, Beans’ music went over so well that he managed to earn an encore from the soundman (a rarity for any opening act). Beans still does the “perverted, polysyllabic android” shtick better than Kool Keith has in years, and his songs are getting funkier, catchier and funnier by the minute. I especially liked the song in which Beans rapped about the mother of his daughter giving him stress “because I wasn’t in love…just out of condoms.” At first, he apologized to the crowd for not dancing as much as he usually does because he messed up his knee on a earlier date of the tour. By the end of the set, though, he was too hyped up to let a slight limp keep him from dancing.

The second act, Battles, was the only one on the bill that I hadn’t already seen before, but it definitely wasn’t because of a lack of interest. Their pedigree is definitely something to be reckoned with. Member Ian Williams used to play in math-rock giants Don Caballero (a band whose last two stops through Austin rank among the 10 best shows I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE), and member Tyondai Braxton is not only the son of the legendary free jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton, but has also become a notable experimental composer of his own right through his loop-driven solo performances and recordings. Does any of this matter when actually listening to Battles’ music? Well, yeah! Battles’ music sounds like --- well, a battle between each member’s individual musical travails. When I watched Ian finger-tap his guitar with one hand while simultaneously playing keyboard with the other, it felt like he had take the techniques he developed in Don Caballero to the next level. Tyondai alternated between similar guitar/keyboard multitasking and constructing loops from his distorted beat-boxing and screaming. Guitarist David Konopka’s riffs seemed to be the glue that held the entire band together, while John Stanier did an impression of the world’s most advanced drum machine on his trap kit. Stanier’s cymbal was positioned so high that everyone in the front row wondered how he’d be able to hit it without standing up, but he did it! Battles’ music might not yet be as fun to listen to on record as it is to see live, but they’re getting there…and as much as I loved Don Caballero, it’s nice to see Ian Williams in a band that doesn’t look like the members completely hate each other.

Prefuse 73 put on a spectacular show. The last time I saw them, main man Scott Herren was joined by his friend and artistic partner DJ Nobody on turntables. This time, Herren and Nobody were augmented by a live drummer who played along to the beats. There were two drum kits set up on stage, and occasionally Herren would man one of them to play along with the drummer. I never had a clue that Scott could play drums (and WELL, at that), so watching him play definitely added an element of surprise to the set. Plus, I automatically love it when bands have more than one good drummer anyway. I was also shocked that most of the set was devoted to older material. A huge chunk of the set came from Extinguished, and only the last three songs were from Prefuse’s latest album Surrounded by Silence. Maybe the mixed reviews that Silence received convinced Herren to do a set of nothing but crowd-pleasers, but that’s really a minor complaint. The encore consisted of a long jam in which the trio was joined by Tyondai Braxton on beat-boxing. It amazes me, the things that man can do with his mouth!

Fun anecdote: at the merchandise table, I was standing in line behind a girl who wanted the members of Battles to autograph her CDs. Ian signed them and passed them to Dave, who signed them as well. Dave then pointed at me and shouted, “Tyondai, can you sign these CDs for her?” I shouted back, “I’m not Tyondai,” and the entire table had a laugh at Dave’s folly. I guess all skinny half-black light-skinned multi-instrumentalists with curly Afros really DO look alike…

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