Beta Band : London Ocean

...we've got something like a carnival on our hands...

[a]Beta Band[/a] had big plans for this gig. They hoped to transform the entire venue into a replica of Mos Eisley’s cantina from ‘Star Wars’, and encouraged fans to come along in fancy dress. Sadly, it hasn’t really worked out: most of tonight’s crowd are busting their own style, and while the stage set does include the odd relevant prop, it falls somewhat short of expectations.

Fortunately, there’s a plan B, and it involves an astonishing opening half hour in which [a]Beta Band[/a] firmly lay a few demons to rest. Last year, for example, they studiously avoided playing anything off their maligned debut album; tonight, the very first thing they play is a Krautrock version of ‘It’s Not Too Beautiful’, and it sounds incredible. From there, they rip into ‘Hot Shots II’, venting their frustration at that album’s commercial failure with an intense, rocked-up version of ‘Human Being’, then swaggering nonchalantly through the beatific likes of ‘Alleged’ and ‘Quiet’. The opening onslaught reaches a climax with ‘Life’, an anti-war tirade that’s never sounded more grave or pertinent.

By now, it’s clear to everyone that a vast gap in talent and ambition separates [a]Beta Band[/a] from most of their contemporaries. It’s fitting, then, that the band proceed to kick back and let the good times roll. Inevitably, it takes a ‘Three EPs’ track – ‘Inner Meet Me’ – to finally get the sluggish crowd moving, and when ‘Dry The Rain’ follows shortly afterwards, it draws a devotional response. By the time they get to ‘Broke’ (arguably their best ever song), we’ve got something like a carnival on our hands.

“I know it can’t be easy being a Beta Band fan”, says Steve Mason, leading his band back for a valedictory encore. “Thanks for sticking with us.” They’re humble words, but it’s obvious tonight that [a]Beta Band[/a]’s confidence has finally come flooding back – not least when they unveil a sleazy new funk track which sounds totally unlike anything they’ve done before.

Turning Hackney into a space-port might have proved beyond them, this time. But musically, you suspect there’s nothing the [a]Beta Band[/a] can’t achieve.

Niall O’Keeffe