February 19, 1998 15:32
BETA ON THE BRATS
[B]THE BETA BAND[/B] bring out the bongos. [B]SIMON WILLIAMS[/B], naturally, is a very happy man...
Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Some people would say they are a little bit odd. They wander onstage to the sound of cranky clown music. Four intense-looking men acquaint themselves with various exotic-looking percussive implements and peer coyly through the foliage of the various tropical plants lining the front of the stage. The 'kids' scamper to the front, and promptly sit down on the carpet. And a very, very small voice says, "Aroooogh! Let the mayhem commence!" Possibly.
Or possibly not. It's fair to say that The Beta Band have hardly lurched like drunken lemmings over the cliff of oblivion and deliberately fallen into the all-seeing, all-welcoming arms of the music industry. The celebrations last year for the release of their crafty debut 'Champion Versions' EP were tempered by a shambolic London King's Cross Water Rats appearance and an absolutely cursed Reading Festival slot. Now, with 'The Patty Patty Sound' EP screwing every stereo in sight - but classily, like - one almost half-expects The Beta Band to once again piss on their proverbial live chips from a very great height.
Credit where credit's due, however: rather than ruin everyone's night by taking out a crap support band just to make themselves look better, the Betas' travelling DJ set-up provides an immense parade of - quite literally - some of the all-time greats, from The Beatles to The Beach Boys via Glen Campbell and several authentic vinyl crackles. This would be spiritual suicide, if not downright arrogance, in lesser mortal's paws. But with The Beta Band you suspect it to be a pure tribute to even purer musical forms. And it's damned hard to think of anything as simple as The Beta Band's current formula for (unwitting) success. Sure, they have their second cousins masquerading as contemporaries, the loose-limbed art grooves of the Regular Fries and the hypno-pop of The Electric Sound Of Joy spring to mind, as do the more whimsical moments on Ian Brown's album. Anyone remember The Incredible String Band? Sorry.
So, they have bongos. And they have their acoustic guitar. And they have their half-stoned songs about off-kilter love affairs and their, uh, 'quaint' way of looking at life (cue their recent reasoning that, when it comes to features, a picture of the countryside would be more representative of the Betas than a good old-fashioned band shot). Oh, and then there's the fact that, at 37 minutes in length, 'The Patty Patty Sound' EP is roughly three days too long to qualify for the singles chart... Hark! Do The Beta Band perhaps represent a classic case of pastoral caring? Actually, no.
Working on the premise that once bitten, twice rabid, The Beta Band have tightened up several degrees since 1971s fuzzy festival season. Still far more inspired giro than, say, farty musos Spyro Gyra, while their hairy, old-school pop instincts are best served by the brilliantly
warming strumalong likes of 'Dry The Rain' and 'She's The One', these fail to overshadow the more 'with it' parts of their set: they can do space dub; they can do techno ticklings; they can out-scream the Primals; they1re still more hypnotic than hip, but they can even immerse themselves in the odd stodgy jam and still manage to pull themselves through to rectify the climax of the song with a flourish that defies their collection of daft hats. See, some people would say that The Beta Band are a bit odd. During 'Dry The Rain' Steve Mason sings, "I need love". Over and over again. Not that odd, then...