First, let’s get the Stalking Heads bit out of the way: Neil Tennant; that Scottish TV person Edith from that brief updated version of Big Breakfast; some other TV presenter who may or may not be Scottish and who I think did a movie show on Channel 4 but I’m not sure; plus a gaggle of people who thought they were famous but weren’t.
Second: the venue. The ICA was shite for sound. It’s small, which is good, but the sound was fucking dire, muddy, turned up waaaaay too loud and distorting all over the place. Sack the sound man, man.
The fact that the audience was largely too cool for school and the sound was grim meant we could get to the front of the stage without difficulty but we only lasted about 15 minutes before we moved.
Third: the wanks in the audience. There are always wanks, but this gig was flooded (speaking of which, we were caught in the almighty deluge last night and were not happy to begin with, so this revue is a bit biased, in case it wasn’t already clear). For some reason, the corner near the stage was empty at first then slowly populated by a writhing snake pit like mass of self-important meedja/industry types who stole all of their dancing moves at a wedding reception in 1985. Lots of Ab Fab Eddies and hideous sweaty men with digital cameras trying to blind the band while they played.
Phew, not that’s all out of the way, on the review proper.
This was a warm-up for their Coronet gig next week. I knew this going in. I wasn’t expecting much and the Beta Band accommodated nicely. With more redundant equipment on stage than Pink Floyd, they rattled through a few oldies (Squares earned the biggest applause sadly) as well as new ones and it was all a big shambolic muddy mess. This would usually be a bad thing, but The Beta Band have always been hit and miss. If they’re great, they’re fucking GRATE, but if they’re not quite on, they can be horrible. Last night drifted into the horrible camp, set up a small cot and took a nap. That didn’t stop the crowd from whooping and cheering, of course, but it didn’t make for a good night. Which is shit because I’d won the tickets (thanks Time Out – though you really need to get yourself organised when it comes to giving out tickets), it was meant to be exclusive (pretty much anyone could get in if they really wanted, but it was riddled with twats) and it had rained like the first hours of the Flood before we arrived (not the band’s fault admittedly, but I should have taken it as a clear sign of things to come). And they went on later than expected at 10.30 which meant I got home late, damp and stinking of smoke. Crap.
After all this though, I need to make one thing clear: I still like the Beta Band. This comes with the territory, because they’re not session musicians, they like experimentation and they’re not afraid to fuck around on stage. When I saw them five years ago, it was the exact same situation, but in a larger venue with smoke machines and stoopid quantities of equipment and poetry reading and free tequila shots handed out by the band beforehand. The sound was awful, they went on and on and on and, still, it was GRATE. So just because last night was mediocre does not mean you shouldn’t go out and buy their new album and see the live and test your luck. Because you may leave the show thinking it was the best thing you’ve ever seen.
Case in point: the night began with a short film called ‘Trouble’ featuring a Shao Lin Scot walking through the woods, seeking revenge for the death of his wife and children. Which he manages to get. Five minutes of homemade silliness with poorly constructed fights and hilarious blood spurts later, the audience was laughing and applauding and reminded why Beta Band can be a great live show. Too bad the rest of the night didn’t live up to that promise.
Zesty Pete Points: 5 out of a possible 11. It would have been less were it not for the short film.
This review originally appeared on PopEx.com : The Pop Exchange.