Band Review: The Beta

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Scottish rock group, The Beta Band, rocked the Fillmore Tuesday night with their quirky, beautiful, sometimes cerebral techno/hip-hop flavored music. The band benefitted from playing in the fairly small Fillmore, performing more energetically than they did during their stint opening for Radiohead's 2001 tour.

Two members of the band, Steve Mason (guitar and vocals) and John Maclean (keyboards, samples) warmed up the dimly purple-lit crowd by taking turns DJing, spinning mainly hip-hop, much of it Caribbean, as the stage guard sang along to the songs he knew behind them. It is somewhat meaningless to identify the band members by their instruments since Mason and Maclean, as well as the other two members of the group, Robin Jones (nominally drums and piano) and Richard Greentree (bass), switch with the other members freely and frequently, and occasionally introduce more unusual instruments, like one peculiar electronic box that involved the player's blowing into a tube.

Just before the band came on in white jumpsuits, a video was projected on the backing screen, mostly showing two band members chasing each other in circles, one on a motorcycle and the other in a car, to Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." This was followed by a strange little film that flashed, "BEWARE! CROOKED COP!" on the screen before showing a crooked cop (played by one of the band members) doing what crooked cops do. Throughout the show, slides flanked trapezoidal video projections, and several more projectors cast slides of buildings, planets and nature onto various pieces of onstage equipment, draped with white cloth while clear tubes filled with white Christmas lights coiled arund the mic stands and other parts of the stage.

Eighty minutes after the doors opened, the band's tour manager ran onstage in a sailor suit, and inexplicably shouted, "From Kingston, Jamaica, The Beta Band!" The band played a 75-minute set dominated by cuts from their latest release, 2001's Hot Shots II, but also included songs from their previous releases.

One highlight of the concert was the performance of the anthemic "Dry the Rain," made famous by the scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack says, "I will now sell six copies of The Three EPs by the Beta Band," and proceeds to play the song, to the approval of his store's customers. Mason dedicated the song to friends who had just been married that day, and the song's added significance to the band came through clearly.

The band's sound is very complex, creating a improvisational feel, and their performances were different from, and better than, the recorded versions. Unfortunately, though, a handful of songs incorporated prerecorded backing tracks lifted straight from the albums, which detracted from the spontaneity. A live trumpeter mitigated this flaw, however, and the band's own performances surrounding the (admittedly few) prerecorded samples restored originality.

After the main set was over, the audience clapped rhythmically to call the band back for what is always my favorite part of a rock concert, the encore. By the end of the encore, in addition to their Hot Shots II material, they had worked their way through most of the good songs that they hadn't played yet from their most well-known release, 1998's The Three EPs. "She's the One" was one of the best songs of the night, marvelously trippy and filled with manipulated vocal samples and electronic sounds. However, they skipped possibly the most beautiful song on the disc, "It's Over." I had been hoping that they would play that last, so that I could end this review by saying, "And when it was over, they played 'It's Over.'"

When it was really over, however, they played two short instrumental songs and left the stage to relax with their newly-married friends.


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