The Beta Band : London Brixton The Fridge

Still packing an awesome punch, but not the out-there troubadours of old, The Beta Band promote 'Hot Shots II'...

Last time we saw them it was all luminous sci-fi costumes, thunderous, glowering versions of ‘It’s Not Too Beautiful’ and ‘The Hard One’, hardly any acknowledgment of the crowd and no ‘Dry The Rain’. And it was awesome, the best band in the country touring an album they hated, fraying at the edges, producing gorgeous tripped-out versions of tracks they’d seen dismissed as mere clowning around.

Tonight, The Beta Band sound brand new. And they [I]look[/I] brand new, too, no longer nerdish and moody, but grinning, jumping around. Steve Mason even spends half the gig in a kimino, before stripping and prowling around in a terrible pair of tracksuit bottoms, rambling on about having stuck something up his arse. This is a band at peace with themselves finally, comfortable with a new album which is confident, consistent, complete, all those things you never used to associate with The Beta Band.

And maybe that’s part of the problem tonight. This is, in many ways, an astonishing event – having come to terms with the fact that, above all else, the kids wanna hear stuff from ‘The Three EPs’, they kick off with a humming, mantra-like ‘Inner Meet Me’, drop a blitzkrieg ‘Dr Baker’ full of proto-jungle rhythms and soaring guitar, and even give us ‘Dry The Rain’ in all its galaxy-scraping glory. But when it comes to material off ‘Hot Shots II’, The Beta Band – the surreal baroque folkbeat psychedelicists with the fucked-up percussion tendencies – too often sound like, well, a really competent guitar band.

Who needs that? They completely ignore ‘The Beta Band’, as if ashamed, seemingly unaware that the ragged deconstructions of its key tracks that they aired last time round were some of the most amazing live moments of the decade. Not to say their new stuff is bad: ‘Broke’, particularly, is almost their new anthem, tonight rendered thrillingly.

But then they play ‘The House Song’ and you remember what a high watermark work of genius ‘The Three EPs’ was, and how anything’s going to pale in comparison. It’s like Van Morrison and ‘Astral Weeks’. He followed it with ‘Moondance’. It was different. It was good. It was, essentially, the beginning of the end.

Christian Ward