Much has been said about Liverpool’s revived status in the national touring nexus. It wasn’t so long ago that international bands would overlook the city when visiting the UK, most preferring to hawk their wares in the capital or in the bustling second cities of Birmingham or Manchester. It is precisely because of the relentless endeavour of promoters like EVOL that Liverpool has been able to punch above its weight when it comes to attracting the biggest names on the live touring circuit.
Tonight’s headliners, the globally-revered BATTLES, are testament to the city’s kick-started reputation – and should, to all intent and purposes, be a fitting high watermark for what is EVOL’s dozenth anniversary. Nonetheless, we find ourselves in Academy 2, the bijou first-floor hub of the Academy. In contrast, Battles’ last outing in Liverpool (a vintage EVOL show), was an utterly jubilant affair at a billowing Kazimier, packed to the rafters with the gig-going faithful. It was 2011 and the band were at the peak of their powers following the release of the sensational Gloss Drop – the optimal reinvention of their sound. To some, Battles’ latest studio album, La Di Da Di, was seen as a bit of a rehash of their established blueprint and was, therefore, somewhat lacking in the startling invention of its predecessors. Aside from the mid-week scheduling, perhaps this goes some way to explaining a certain lethargy around this evening’s performance.
Thankfully, local support BARBEROS inject some much-needed sizzle into the occasion with an enigmatic and often frightening barrage of poly-rhythmic mayhem. There’s something instantly infatuating about two drummers and a keyboard warrior – mithril-clad – in Lycra morph suits and matching balaclava combination.
After but a few numbers, Brazilian electro dabblers MIXHELL have ruptured the ear and the ether with a near-seismic assault of live techno and tropically-metered trance. The onslaught of four-to-the-floor rhythm is led by Igor Cavalera, the former Sepultura drummer, alongside his wife, Laima Leyton. For the once thrash metal heavyweight, Mixhell is an odd avenue of exploration; the group have more in common with Soulwax than Soul Assassins.
Battles commence proceedings with Dot Com, a stuttering disco of intricacy, driven as ever by John Stanier’s motorik drum pattern. For the easily pleased, Stanier breaks his austere time keeping with the occasional crash on a ludicrously extended cymbal. Ian Williams stabs sporadically at strings and licks at the fretboard before arriving swiftly at the tip of Ice Cream – the widely synchronised and lovingly-looped masterclass – still the band’s most accessible work to date. For a moment, Battles rock so hard that we’re plunged into darkness as the lighting rig capitulates under the intense scrutiny of a cacophony of cues.
The band regain confidence in their surroundings with an emphatic rendition of Mirrored centrepiece Atlas, a song symbolic of why we first fell for Battles. Aside from Dave Konopka’s astonishingly naive ad-lib (I’ll spare you the details), the band work heroically through some of Gloss Drop and La Di Da Di’s most salient numbers: Futura, Summer Simmer and The Yabba bounce by like a sonically pitched parade or an off-kilter pep rally.