If you've never seen the Beta Band, and are looking for something a bit different to entertain you, then you should definitely check them out next time they play live. To quote the band themselves: "Groove and funk are what it's all about, not formulaic dance music... it may not make you want to grin and take your shirt off. It may make you want to crawl around like a bug, but it will make you move". Although the Beta Band aren't strictly electronic, they aren't your typical guitars-drums-bass indie band either, employing a pick 'n' mix assortment of instruments and sounds. There are washing-machine samples, bongos, steel pans, Fisher Price xylophones, stylophones, Jew's harp, human beatbox, and big beefy drum-machine beats, as well as the usual guitars and drums.
They are not an easy band to define - everything from krautrock to country, pyschedelia to lo-fi - it's all thrown into the mix. Officially, there are four band members, but they have a fluctuating entourage of trumpet-players, extra drummers - even a New York rapper. What's more, they all move around the stage, switching from instrument to instrument with such fluidity you wouldn't notice if you hadn't seen it for yourself, because the sound is so tight. These guys are in-tune with each other! Tracks from both albums were given an airing at the Astoria. New stuff like Dance Over the Border (from the self-titled second album) sounded pretty good, but it was older songs such as Inner Meet Me and Dry The Rain (off The 3 EPs collection) that garnered the most rapturous applause. Much of the set was accompanied by homemade videos - a definite highlight of the band's gigs.
The videos are decidedly lo-fi, but so much fun! One charming video showed someone grocery-shopping for such delights as a can of Girls, a bottle of Sunshine and some Memories, whilst rejecting such unsavoury goods as canned Rage and Authority. The sight of a variety of badly animated aliens trying to pick up some abandoned musical instruments had the guy next to me in stitches - and laughter is contagious. The videos also provide a distraction for any possibility of audience glaze-over at any particularly noodly point - but thankfully, there weren't many of those. When they encored with a stonking rendition of The House Song, there were five people banging on two drumkits and a set of bongos, and it sounded marvellous, teasing the audience with several false endings, which built up to a massive crescendo and suddenly, stopped. All five of them stopped at exactly the same time - leaving the audience to erupt in a melee of screams and whistles for even more. Sadly, this is their last gig for a while, while they take some time off touring, but they'll be back, and when they are, you should be there to celebrate.