Most bands work a crowd through some form of blatant interaction: eliciting call and response; shouting “Come on! Get up!” or some such; waving their arms about like deranged puppet-masters; or appealing to ego by saying that the crowd “is the best ever”. Not experimental rockers Battles; they work a crowd through a much more direct and fundamental method: the music. At their best Battles comfortably slip into their groove and create enough room there for the audience to join them, and the crowd at Manning Bar were often to be seen bobbing, or unselfconsciously dancing, along in time with the band.
Judging from the reaction of the crowd when Battles – who are in Australia for the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival and touring off the back of their third album La Di Da Di – took to the stage, Konopka, who was first on and last off, was under-appreciated by the audience. The audience barely reacted as he quietly took his place on stage – which was frequently crouched down, nearly out of sight, manually manipulating his effects pedals – and started layering his guitar sounds, building melody into rhythm for the set opener Dot Com. Cheers and applause erupted when Williams strode across stage to take his place behind his keyboards, and again when Stanier – who initially stood at the back of the stage, as though waiting to formally be called forth – seated himself behind his minimalist drum-kit which he worked to great effect for the duration of the performance. One hopes that Konopka is granted greater visibility in future shows.
John Stanier’s drumming is literally placed centre-stage during a live performance with bandmates Ian Williams (guitar and keyboard) and Dave Konopka (guitar and bass) flanking Stanier, with the band forgoing the usual set-up where the drummer is placed upstage of the rest of the band. This takes the aural unity of Battles and gives it a physical presence; the presentation of the band as a collection of different but equal parts. Stanier’s drumming, with its solid rhythmic structure, provides the backbone of Battles’ music against which Williams overlays experimental melodies in a rhapsodic fashion, and Konopka provides the bridge between these two sensibilities by creating guitar/bass parts that are rigid and rhythmic enough to mesh with Stanier’s groove, yet loose and melodic enough to ensure Williams’ melodies always fit within the whole.
As Battles left the stage with the conclusion of Atlas, after 70 odd minutes onstage, Konopka had the demeanour of a game-a-day player who could happily play the whole set again, right then and there, while sweat ran in torrents off Stanier – demonstrating his commitment to not misplacing a single beat all night – and Williams’ had tired himself somewhat with Peter Garrett-esque dancing through many of the songs. The crowd was adoring but not quite satisfied. After a brief interval the band returned to the stage to perform The Yabba for an encore. After the single song encore the band retired for the evening, and the audience longed for more, lingering in anticipation even as the roadies began dismantling the stage. Battles had connected, nearly wordlessly, with the audience for 80 minutes, leaving everyone satisfied but still wanting more.