Last Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom, the Brooklyn instrumental rock band Battles played a taut, ferocious set in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, many of whom have no doubt followed guitarist and bandleader Ian Williams' work from the legendary math-rock band Don Caballero to the should-be-legendary avant-rock trio Storm and Stress. Battles plays a particularly flashy form of math-rock, making nimble use of looping pedals to build up complex, interlocking phrases that grind together in unexpected ways, producing a whole lot of musical shrapnel in the process. Each piece eventually builds up into a monstrous, clanging groove, but you can see that what excites the members of the band is not the groove itself, but the moments when it is disrupted: These guys are addicted to the thrill of the rhythmically unexpected, and you get the sense that the sensation of expecting something to be in, say, 3/4, and then bringing in a drum beat that demonstrates that it is in fact in, say, 5/8, is one of near-orgasmic pleasure for them. Not sharing that particular musical erogenous zone, I soon found their set grating, although their energy, enthusiasm and sweaty virtuosity certainly held my attention for a while.
Headliner Prefuse 73 was going for a simpler, and far more lastingly satisfying, effect: a steamrolling, funked-out groove. This was somewhat unexpected, as much of the pleasure of Prefuse's music is the way that his beats never quite coalesce into a real groove, but are always a little off, a little destabilized. He achieves that effect almost entirely with unusually placed and cut samples, but here he was playing with a live bassist and drummer. Having the live instrumentalists regularize the music made it less unusual, less sophisticated -- but it also turned it into great dance music, which was much appreciated by the crowd.