Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Beta Band @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

30 November 2004

In this world of alpha rock, there resides a surrealist band who staunchly play off-the-wall music to an adoring audience. They’ve never been overly concerned with world domination, although they briefly achieved glittering fame when their bombastic Dry The Rain appeared in the film High Fidelity. They are, of course, The Beta Band.

Now, within the buzzing Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, the audience awaits the band’s farewell gig. The quartet are respectfully bowing out due to poor sales and are on tour to say goodbye to their fans. This creates an odd atmosphere within the ornate hall. It feels like the last supper, though we’re supposed to be enjoying the experience. The stage is set but the final curtain is waiting to drop.

The band modestly stroll on stage in white shirts and dark ties, looking like it’s their last day of term. But these guys aren’t about to head off to an after-school partay. Apart from the keyboardist bouncing like Zebedee on heat, there is no sign of care-free abandon or letting rip. Instead, they just go through the motions during opening song It’s Not Too Beautiful. Slickly moving on to Squares, one of their mainstream hits, the audience roar with appreciation. But the song is bittersweet, for its release coinciding with Eyemonster’s hit single, which uses the exact same ‘daydreams’ sample, proved to be a real commercial blow.

With a sound reminiscent of a thousand cult films the Betas plough on with their set-list. But without any zest or innate sense of enjoyment, the band’s performance is woefully underwhelming. There is of course the argument that the music speaks for itself, and rightly so, but there should then also be a vital force on stage. Tonight it isn’t there. This just isn’t the same band I saw at Guilfest only four months ago, who were free-spirited and openly enjoying the set. They may not do big gigs very well, but if this concert tonight is a wake to celebrate their music then I’d rather have the funeral. And if there wasn’t this dense layer of farewell sentiment then I’d be bored stiff. The home movies they loved to project behind them are now acutely absent. It’s like the life has drained out of the men already and all that’s left is their music.

The music is of course something I can’t fault. At one point the genre-benders fly into their rabble-rousing single Out-Side followed closely by the euphoric She’s The One, which turns into an epic instrumental epilogue with tambourines and tom-toms. Dr Baker, Alleged and Easy exemplify the band’s easy hop from The Three EPs to Hot Shots II and to their final album Heroes To Zeros.

It is unsurprisingly Dry The Rain that inspires the biggest collective whoop of the evening. Silhouettes of sweaty people are pogoing at the front and you can feel the whole auditorium taking a deep voluminous breath before blasting out the anthemic chorus.

The band rolls out its first party piece during the off-beat rhythms of Broke. Singer Stephen Mason scuttles off behind a second set of drums and the dual pounding immediately empowers the song with an infectious carnival beat. The two men pummelling away on their stools is a sight to behold, but the best is yet to come. Following an expected encore, during which they play Assessment and Dog’s Got A Bone, they head off stage again. A lame ending to a final concert I was thinking. But then they stride back on stage for a second encore, surprising an elated audience who were getting ready to leave. The party beats of The House Song pumps through the hall and this time all four Betas gather around the drum kits and start bashing away, one on each side. Talk about suddenly picking up the pace! And thank God they did, for now I can say that the Beta Band truly went out with a bang.


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More on The Beta Band
The Beta Band – Music: The Best Of
The Beta Band interview: “Being under pressure is like being a caged animal – we start snarling!”
The Beta Band @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Guilfest 2004, Day 1 @ Stoke Park, Guildford
The Beta Band – Heroes To Zeros