Live Review: Battles – Manning Bar, Sydney (10.02.16)

Perched dangerously close to the edge of the stage, Battles‘ signature skyscraping cymbal lingered precariously over the crowd as the New York band’s fans eagerly awaited their long anticipated return to Sydney.

Guitarist and bassist Dave Konopka emerged first, busy looping his effects on the ground, a guitar draped over his shoulder. There was a slow build as guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams came on and then, finally, John Stanier‘s drums kick it all into shape, as “Dot Com” off their latest LP launched the night.

There’s a math-like precision to their music, but live there is some form of frenetic energy that borders on madness underlining it all. Songs like “Ice Cream” (which came second after the band teased at length at the start – the pre-recorded vocals coming in over their live instrumentals), while wholly recognisable, becomes a beast of their own entity in the live environment.

The majority of the set – which though a solid 90 minutes in length only featured nine tracks – leant on their latest, completely instrumental, record La Di Da Di, with only “Futura” and “Ice Cream” dropping off Gloss Drop, and “Atlas” off their debut to close out the main set, as is to be hoped for from a Battles set.

The iconic track kicked off with Stanier standing, beating the shit out of his  towering cymbal until sweat was dripping everywhere. The song itself kicked in not long after, and let’s just say it was taken up a notch – it was, in a word, intense. No one wanted it to end. After so many years playing that one, it’s no surprise they are adding a new take to proceedings.

Speaking of drummer John Stanier, his importance can’t be understated – one thing that seems to tie all the band’s songs together is his signature beat. No song is allowed to come into form until Stanier’s drum is added into the mix. It’s like the “drop” moment that’s so common in the EDM world (of which Battles exist in some form of an experimental off-shoot), and similarly Battles have fun in the live space making you wait for that moment; teasing longer intros as you wait for those great moments to come in.

No better example is a track like “The Yabba”, which served as their sole encore track. The opening track off their latest record – as well as its most well known single – is suitable for their Australia tour, being the second that had been influenced by our fine country. The first, “Sweetie and Shag”, named after the FBi radio presenters and found on Gloss Drop, sadly didn’t make the set.

After they walked off stage, the crowd refused to accept the show had ended, chanting for more when the band were well and truly backstage enjoying a few beers. And it’s no wonder – the band had us hooked from start to finish. They are as hypnotic as they are energetic, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in it all. There’s no band like them on the planet and the live experience is incomparable.

Battles perform tonight at Max Watt’s in Melbourne, tomorrow at the city’s Laneway Festival, and then at Laneway in Fremantle on Sunday. Their debut EP and first two LPs will be re-issued on 1st April.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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