Laneway festival gets us excited every year; sure the festival is great and the lineup is always on point but with the festival comes the sideshows and that’s where things get truly interesting. Wednesday night at The Manning Bar was exactly that as New York trio Battles not only gave us the key, but also walked in with us and gave us a tour of their prog influenced world of controlled chaos.
If you haven’t seen Battles live yet then you’re missing out. The trio blew the roof off Sydney’s Manning Bar in what was a gig not to be forgotten.
Kicking off the set was guitarist Dave Konopka taking the stage solo building loop and loop along with crowd anticipation before guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams and drummer John Stanier took to the stage and walloped the crowd with Dot Com. Immediately noticeable was how tight and accomplished the trio was, eschewing from a expanded band setup and choosing to utilize a huge array of vocal, keyboard and guitar loops sometimes tweaked so far beyond its original sound that you’d be forgiven for thinking an alien message was transmitting rather than three musicians simply getting their strange on, and strange they got.
While the set consisted of predominantly new songs from their latest release La Di Da Di, the one two punch of Ice Cream and Futura from first album Gloss Drop did not get missed by the crowd, as if Battles was gently saying “this is where we came from, this is who we are”. It was a blissful blend of funk and dance floor ready grooves mixed with otherworldly loops and some wild time signatures for good measure.
There was little fanfare from the band and next to no stage banter, but for the crowd this didn’t matter. We weren’t here to chat, we were here to watch some doctors operate on sound. In fact drummer John Stanier was so deeply locked in as the unwavering backbone of the group that some would say he wasn’t simply playing in the pocket, he was massaging it.
Basically when he decided to throw a hi-hat rhythm in asymmetric timing over the top of a song our brains exploded.
In case there were any unimpressed ears left in the crowd, Battles certainly made quick work of that with the closing triple threat of Tyne Wear, Summer Simmer and the best received of the night Atlas. It was a mixture of fun, unhinged and unrelenting power that really made aware this was no regular band. Battles closed out with an encore of The Yabba in which Williams states “Is a song truly about Australia and is the second time we’ve referenced Australia, so, thanks.”
Battles’ live show was one of the most cohesive and explosive shows I’ve seen in a long while. Not ones to mix their words, the trio let the music do the talking, improvising with the kind of structure that let us know their chaos was never too far out of order. If you haven’t listened to them, listen. If you didn’t catch them at Laneway or their sideshows then you know what goes in your calendar for next time. They’re musicians making music to challenge your mind and a must see act.