mercredi, novembre 17, 2004

The Beta Band, Academy, Glasgow

David Pollock

17 November 2004

Although they spent the vast majority of their public life lurking just under the radar of the mainstream, as identifiable yet enigmatically nondescript as pale indie scenesters propping up the bar during a gig, the demise of The Beta Band leaves a hole in the UK's music scene. True mavericks are hard to come by, and each one that gives up on their struggle to do just what the bloody hell they want and get paid for it is one step closer to the neutering of popular music as the playground of bullish idealism.

When Steve Mason, Richard Greentree, John Maclean and Robin Jones announced over the summer that they would split up before the end of the year ("The Beta Band apple has over-ripened," Greentree preached cryptically. "It must fall from the tree and let its seeds return to the ground"), to say that the reaction of Britain's fringed-and-feather-cut youth - a contingent as fickle as those who pore over The X Factor's passionless Saturday-night soap opera - was apathetic would not be doing it a disservice.

It's all a far cry from 1998, when the Betas collected the previous 12 months' work as the bluntly titled Three EPs, and found themselves rightly proclaimed in all quarters as one of the year's finest new bands. The diverse strains of indie-rock, jazz and hip hop - the latter the band's collective personal passion - combined in an on-paper-unworkable-but-in-practice-mesmerising symphony, in the process winning plenty of admirers. Not least John Cusack, who found them their own corner of celluloid history with a personal namecheck in the fim version of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

All stratospheric progress which was, however, cut short by one of the most famous gaffes in rock's recent history. The eponymous 1999 debut album might have escaped with the labels "experimental" and "obscure" had the band themselves not described it as "shit". It was a statement that was to remain over them like a cloud, despite the impressive (and somewhat sarcastically-titled) follow-ups Hot Shots II and Heroes to Zeros.

Yet their fans have remained true. That much was evident at this jam-packed first night of a national farewell tour. The crowd chanted their name as if the mantra would keep their heroes intact, while the band - for the most part - just played on with their usual knowing smirk. Despite the occasion, this was a pared-down visual show - gone are the characteristic video-loop accompaniments, while the foursome are rather cheekily attired in shirts and ties. Were they not all still active filmmakers, artists and side-project musicians, we'd think they'd just stopped in on the way back to their day jobs.

In truth, The Beta Band competed with the very best in terms of their ambition's breadth. "Broke" and "She's the One" are hip-hop-paced mantras; "Dog's Got a Bone" is a ludicrously catchy folk-shanty; "Assessment" is a growling indie-rocker and their enduring anthem "Dry the Rain" will remain a monument. The sight and sound of Jones, Maclean and Mason all hammering the dual drumkits to Greentree's bassline during the perennial set-closer "House of Song", of course, leaves the inspiration reeling - but tinged with sadness that it will hardly ever be played again.

Then a bow, a "thank you" and a request for "love and peace". The mavericks are gone... and music just became a duller place.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd