Live: !!! and Battles Vie For Dominance At Warp Records' Terminal 5 Birthday Party

Battles, !!!, Flying Lotus
Terminal 5
Friday, Sept. 4

Sauntering into Terminal 5, we encounter the surreal spectacle of a fairly large mass of humanity extrovertedly blissing out to concussively loud, deeply hypnotic excerpts from Flying Lotus' Los Angeles, my official late-night solitary headphone record of 2008. This is a bizarre sensation, a private pleasure being flaunted this publicly, but that's to be expected, I suppose, at a shamelessly crowd-pleasing birthday party for Warp Records, one of history's finest ultra-introvert labels. No one even bothers to consider the possibility of an Aphex Twin cameo. Mr. Flying Lotus is a fine stand-in, space-ambient-mellow and drum 'n' bass-frantic by turns, throwing in a few dialogue clips from War Games, a bit of Radiohead's "Idioteque," and some playing-to-type stage banter ("Y'all like cartoons, man?") as well.

And then, we are reminded of what a stupendous live band !!! is capable of being.

As someone who's had elaborate, annoyed fantasies about throwing preening, spastic ringleader Nic Offer through a plate-glass window while his band was playing, I must admit that he probably considers such a reaction totally acceptable -- any reaction will do, the more severe the better. A pest, in hockey parlance, but a wildly successful one, dancing semi-awkwardly, leaping into the crowd, and barking vaguely salacious lyrics ("Must Be the Moonlight" is the jam) as the band rips ferociously into unapologetic, unstoppable dance-punk, every bassline a mini-symphony. As full-on body music I doubt anything at Electric Zoo was as guilty or as pleasurable. Don't sleep on them, or with them.

I worried a bit for Battles, an ecstatic live act themselves but certainly more cerebral and challenging, and though the crowd was theirs from the onset -- whooping cheers as drummer John Stanier raises his iconic, towering cymbal as the band sets up -- they start with a few inherently bewildering new prog-disco tunes, no one in the crowd quite sure they've got the rhythm down exactly right (cling to Stanier, a brute force amid all that braininess), Ian Williams somehow conjuring a demented harmonica sound from his guitar, Tyondai Braxton howling brattily through a bank of eerie effects as though piloting the second coming of Public Image Ltd. But once they move onto jams from 2007's much-beloved Mirrored, they reminded you how easily they can make the inscrutable anthemic: "Atlas" is hands down the weirdest really catchy pop song of the last decade, a demented march of the pigs as effective a show-closer as it is improbable. It thrilled the crowd without pandering to it. A little pandering, though, works too.

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