Battles against bad music

Characterized by extreme precision and its rhythmically complex structures, the quiet genre appropriately dubbed “math rock” is making an appearance here in Portland on Wednesday at the Doug Fir.

Characterized by extreme precision and its rhythmically complex structures, the quiet genre appropriately dubbed “math rock” is making an appearance here in Portland on Wednesday at the Doug Fir. This isn’t just any other creative doppelganger spawned from the post-punk era that emerged through underground music during the late ’80s, but its popularity is due in part to the highly-acclaimed band Battles and the incredibly talented rock mutants that comprise it.

Without a doubt, these true-to-life X-Men are going to be putting on an entertaining performance—showing off how masterfully they have honed their skills in manifesting their challenging time signatures, angular melodies and start-stop rhythmic prose into something that gives way to good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.

This power trio consists of some major players that have already made their mark in this sort of genre and have also partaken in some reputable acts. Battles formed in 2002 by ex-Don Caballero and former member of Storm & Stress Ian Williams (guitar, keyboard), ex-Helmet and ex-Tomahawk member John Stanier (drums, extremely impractical cymbal height) and ex-Lynx Dave Konopka (guitar, bass). These guys came together in New York in what appears to be the merging of very influential forces that can only be reasonably compared to Captain Planet and his Planeteers.

Williams, known as a math rock pioneer to many (as well as serving in a cameo appearance during the film “High Fidelity” with John Cusack), started Battles after his departure from his former two bands in which he had contributed as the second guitarist on seven albums. Having left his mark as a multi-functional finger-tapping guitar genius, Williams left Chicago with enough brawn to take an avant-garde position in the realm of math rock, taking into account the many factors that would help facilitate and create a new, yet familiar, approach to shoveling out complex rhythms.

If you pay close attention during the show, you may catch the artist juggling with his intense loop system (a Gibson Echoplex) as he finagles the impossible: finger-tapping out the flawless and unique “robot rock” melody while he pumps out the intensely disciplined notes on the keyboard simultaneously. This alone instills true fascination.

The second Planeteer, John Stanier, who already gains recognition from just surviving the pressure that comes with the position of intense percussionist, has done so with a sense of stubbornness. Hailing from Baltimore, Stanier got his start serving as the drummer for the alternative-metal group Helmet, birthed by Oregon-native Page Hamilton. Persevering through the many line-up changes that the band Helmet had gone through, Stanier had gained prestige as a drummer known for his speed, endurance and precision, especially while performing live. He was interviewed in magazines such as Modern Drummer and cited influences like Neal Peart, the drummer for Rush.

What stands out with Stanier is that he stands by the fact that he never had any formal drum lessons growing up other than going to school at the University of South Florida to endure studying orchestral percussion. Another interesting fact about Stanier is that he is known for taking his Zildjian K ride and boosting it high (and I mean high) above his drum set, which I’m guessing is to either add to the entertainment effect of the show, or to just help keep his mind in focus. All in all, he’s a musician who deserves a bit of awe.

The third Planeteer, bassist and guitarist Dave Konopka, holds down his position with no apprehension. From just listening to a sample of Battles’ latest record “Gloss Drop,” due to be released in June, it’s clear that Konopka can hold his own with the other two virtuosos.

All there is left to really say is that if you are trying to go see a truly remarkable musical experience, as opposed to watching another band perform along the same old guidelines that live music adheres to, see these guys at the Doug Fir tomorrow. ?