The Highline Ballroom was sparse enough that you could’ve
ridden a bicycle through the crowd and I was front and center, waiting for the show
to start. Two banker types in expensive suits strolled up beside me,
one of whom starts talking to me.
"So, they’re going to do Beta Band songs, right?" he asks me.
"Um, I doubt it. This is everyone from Beta Band except the lead singer.
Those were mostly all his songs."
"That sucks. Do you know that song ‘Dry the Rain’?"
"That’s, like, one of the best songs of the last several years. Wow. No Beta
"I would be very surprised if they did. Have you heard The Aliens
album? It’s good."
"No…we just thought they’d do Beta Band songs. Do you like The Black
Lips? We’re going to see them right after this."
Those disappointed, possible owners of This is Next took off after the second song, realizing that they weren’t going to get "Dry the Rain" or anything else from the High Fidelity soundtrack. I wish I could say that they missed out on an amazing, mind-bending, face-melting show, but they didn’t. Not a bad show by any means, just not great.
I actually really like the Aliens‘ debut, Astronomy for Dogs. It’s got good tunes, good harmonies, good humor, and exceedingly clever bits that make you remember why you liked the Beta Band so much in 1998. (For the unaware, the Aliens are BB’s John Maclean and Robin Jones, and Gordon Anderson who was a founding member of the Betas [along with singer Steve Mason] but left after the first EP.) But on stage, they’re more like a second rate The Soundtrack of Our Lives, minus the musicianship, effortless cool, and Scandanavian good looks. Anderson is a real goofball, with a Jeff Lynne/Don Was hairdo that was, to quote Billy Connelly, windswept and interesting the whole night thanks to a well-placed fan in front of the stage. He also has curious dancing style, part bad kung fu, part bad breakdancing, all nerdy hipster.
The Aliens were at their best when keyboardist Maclean’s influence was most evident: the magically repetitive "Robot Man" and, especially, the encore "Rox" which incorporated (Ian McCulloch style) Primal Scream’s "Higher Than the Sun," the Beatles, and the Close Encounters five-note musical code and other stuff I’m sure. But mostly they were shambolic Freedom Rockers who didn’t even play my favorite song, the midtempo "Tomorrow."
Again, they weren’t bad. But I’d seen the Beta Band four or five times, all great shows, and that certainly colored the Aliens’ performance. Steve Mason was notoriously serious about the Betas, and this was certainly the antithesis of that, but probably too much so. A little less time goofing off, and a little more playing the songs well and the Aliens would be as good as their album.
MP3: The Aliens – Rox
Oh yeah, I took video of "Robot Man," which features Gordon in full kook mode:
And the Aliens may be landing near you…
Sep 20 GREAT SCOTT BOSTON, MA
Sep 21 ROCK & ROLL HOTEL WASHINGTON, DC
Sep 22 LEE’S PALACE TORONTO
Sep 24 MAGIC STICK DETROIT, MI
Sep 25 SCHUBAS TAVERN CHICAGO, IL
Sep 26 THE VARSITY THEATRE MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Sep 28 LARIMER LOUNGE DENVER, CO
Oct 1 RICHARD’S ON RICHARD’S CABARET VANCOVER, BC
Oct 2 CROCODILE CAFE SEATTLE, WA
Oct 3 DOUG FIR LOUNGE PORTLAND, OR
Oct 5 SLIM’S SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Oct 6 LA WEEKLY DETOUR FESTIVAL LOS ANGELES, CA