Live: Battles/Ponytail/Sharks and Sailors

Battles pic #1

NUMBERS -- 6/23/2007: Lately, live music seems to be comprised of nothing more than a hodgepodge of reunion tours and big named acts touring the globe to spread their banality. Sure, it's exciting to see The Police back out on the concert circuit after so many years, but what live music really needs is a nice strong kick in the proverbial booty to get things back in motion; something edgy, frenzied, and one of a kind. Houston's own scene has recently been graced with some of that fresh, new musical talent, and a decent-sized crowd of dedicated locals got the chance to see one of the finest shows this town has hosted in months.
Local indie rock gods (and goddess) Sharks and Sailors started the night off with one of the best performances since their inception. A quartet of four friends, Sharks and Sailors are the embodiment of the cliché "practice makes perfect." Their sound is spot on. Every guitar stroke and drumbeat has matured into a crisp, clean amalgam of loudness. "Hello, Sister" (a personal favorite) is a melancholy crescendo of beautiful noise. "Battle," from their first EP release, is an intense ride of eardrum-shattering proportions. Phil Woodward's drumming is intense, calculated, and woven neatly into the riotous mood of Al Hendrix and Mike Rollin's guitar melodies and Melissa Lonchambon's bass lines. Sharks and Sailors is leaving its signature bite on a city that is still struggling to find some musical inspiration.
After a stellar performance by Sharks and Sailors, the audience got a real earful with Baltimore's own Ponytail -- a mind-numbingly noisy band of eccentricity. Ponytail's lead singer Molly was perched center stage, smiling innocently as the crowd stood in anticipation, unaware of what she had in store for them. And boy, did she have something in store. The instrumentals were really first-rate. The music was loud and oscillating but in a succinct and strangely satisfying way. What were less than enjoyable were the unidentifiable sounds that escaped from Molly's mouth. The noises were a cross between high-pitched dolphin mating calls and Janis Joplin on a speedball. At first the audience all seemed to have that deer-in-headlights look. As the band played on, the shrieking became almost endearing in some freakish Twilight Zone manner. It didn't take long, though, to be knocked back into reality by the piercing sounds of creepiness. Despite the deafening screeches, the overall vision of Ponytail is undoubtedly distinctive and singularly unique. The music is quality and has the potential to appeal to certain audiences who are open-minded to new sounds.
The opening acts were the perfect primer for the newest buzz out of New York City. Battles, which includes former Helmet drummer John Stanier and former Don Cab guitarist Ian Williams, is in a league all its own. Labeled by some as "math-rock," Battles' sound may not always add up or...well...ever add up, but the manic cacophony of its invention is worth enduring. One of the most intriguing aspects of their set was the suspended cymbal that dangled several inches above Stanier's head. The intensity and consistency of Stanier's drumming was nothing short of maniacally brilliant. Tyondai Braxton's energy resembled that of an inspired artist lost deep in creative thought. It was almost as if the songs were being created right there on stage as they performed.
One fan described Battles' most recognizable single, "Atlas," as "Marilyn Manson meets Broken Social Scene," a description that befits a band whose sound is really that all over the map. Each song they played, from "Race Out" to "Bad Trails," was a random mismatch of delectable din. There were times throughout their performance where it felt like each band member was playing as though the rest of the band wasn't there. Yet somehow, they were able to make it flow together to create an intense, trippy, yet oddly laid back combination. The final equation leaves listeners deciding for themselves if there is a solution to the randomness or if it's all just separate and distinct noise.
Collectively, these three bands put on one heck of a great show. It was different and convulsive and kept the crowd on their toes. Even if the music was not enjoyable to all who attended, it was still an opportunity to see musicians who are pushing the limits of sound and harmony and creating the type of music that fuels their souls. END