Review of The Aliens live at The Faversham, Leeds 28th May 2009 supported by Plastic Fuzz and Maggie8.
The Faversham is nestled just behind the Leeds University grounds; it has a pretty beer garden, conservatory combo and a recently refurbished bar/live music area, which is dark mahogany stained wood with a postage stamp stage. It was a gloriously sunny night so as the place started to fill up a little I wandered out to the beer garden with my friend, taking note of the people attending this gig. It slowly became clear that a lot of the people here would have been prime Beta Band fans. A host of late 20's to mid 30's men the majority of which were what I would call stereotypical men's men. Dotted amongst them a few women, seemingly WAGS of the prime Beta Band fans and a few younger aspiring male guitar players who have no doubt found the Beta Band and joined the dots.
Plastic Fuzz took to the stage at 8pm on the dot. A one man multi instrumentalist producer performer with the domineer of a Victorian Magician, but his magic box was filled with a Micro Korg, Loop Pedals, Drum Machines and his Guitar. His outfit for the evening added a certain flare I guess, although it was a little Jack White inspired. His mixture of sounds and melodies was definitely eclectic, elements of Kraftwerk, Radiohead, Jack White, Four Tet, Beck, which was reiterated with his cover of Radiohead's Airbag or a certain intertwining of Jeans Team's Keine Melodine. His electronic elements show a certain European Techno, Synth Pop influence. At times the performance felt a little awkward, which I would perhaps hold the audience slightly more responsible for than Plastic Fuzz himself. He certainly shows promise, and although I wasn't totally blown away by his performance, if you get the chance to see him. Do.
After a reshuffling of the tiny Faversham stage the next act came on out and got settled into place. Maggie8 a Leeds based band has a mixture of elements including a pretty female bassist who sings in Hindi, I believe. Her vocals add a delicate ethnicity to the Banjo, Drums, Synth, Guitar, Bass, Trumpet combo. The vocals aren't just in Hindi but are shared between the pretty clichÃ©, and a long slender slightly effeminate front man. They have one song in particular that stood out to me called 'Carry On' which has the two vocalists harmonising in two languages at certain points and a racing intricate drum rhythm. The Trumpet sounds reminded me a lot of Beirut and in particular Nantes. They're whole vibe is very Beirut esq. However, Maggie8 has certain moments of stale orchestration and it did get a little samey by the end of their set. A talented bunch of musicians who I think will continue to whittle themselves a more unique groove to what they have nurtured thus far.
The stage now fully set for The Aliens, the group finally emerge. Wearing Sunglasses, Visors, and Glow Sticks. Their kit all marked up with glowing stickers and patterns marked with The Aliens. They kick off with Rox, which merged out of the crazy noise that had been building for the past 10 minutes. A cheeky smile or two from John from behind his Keyboards, Gordon noticeably up for it, and Robin bouncing along on his Drums. They all seemed fit for action, and by this point so was the crowd. The Aliens collectively have brought together elements of what we knew and loved from The Beta Band and made it less Trip Hop, but still as experimental and still a smorgasbord of sounds. They have never been shy of atmospheric layering from synth loops and electronics and it became quickly evident to me and my friend, that this was going to be more than just a straight up romp through the hits of The Aliens, it very quickly turned into the sort of gig you would have seen in the 1970's Prog Rock Jam Band scene. Electric Apricot did spring to mind. Starting with stuff mainly from Luna their second Album, and building up into a romping rendition of Robot Man, and more Astronomy for Dogs stuff, this seemed to be more popular with the crowd. Tracks like Theremin, Magic Man, The Happy Song, I am the Unknown all getting lost into the mix of this glitchy, clicky, synthy, rocky, pop, Acid Jam. As the band went on Robin's Drumming remained so tight it was ridiculous. The rolls and trills and rhythms and accuracy of his drumming were awesome and nods of approval dripped through the audience. The set lost some pace at times, when Gordon seemed to go a bit off on one, whether it was complaining about the sound from the stage, throwing his keys to people off stage, or wandering off stage, or crawling along lighting rigs, or throwing glow sticks at people in the audience, generally rambling and ranting to the audience or going off on solos and improvisations. All very front man antics, but I started to feel a bit sorry for the rest of the band. He seemed unruly and uncooperative at times and I wondered if he was the supposed 'nightmare to work with', that all the rumours suggest. He certainly got lost in his own sounds, and grooves without any real concern for his band or the audience. The set started to get even more stagnant as the scent of flatulence from the hoard of bloated mid 30's beer filled men grew thicker.
A certain appeal of The Aliens for me has always been their recipe of sound. Ingredients being the Harmonies, Guitar, tight Drums, Keyboards/Synths, and Electronics. Served with the elements drawn from a not definitive list of different genres such as Blues, Hip Hop, Prog Rock, Pop, Soul, almost classical orchestration, Trip Hop, Electronica. But like a good recipe sometimes it doesn't quite turn out right on the night. It just all merged into a sea of sound that had very little shape or form, and only for a few minutes out of every 10 did the band get chance to come together long enough to settle in a groove. The frustrating part was that when they did, they were brilliant. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Jam Bands and I like it when live sets are different or reworked album versions but this felt like talented musicians winging it. It needed just a little bit of structure and editing, without that it slowly lacked any oomph or pace to keep everyone interested. The playing order of the tracks seemingly didn't exist other than inside Gordon's lubricated mind.
Their finale piece was what felt like an extended, extended, extended version of Bobby's Song with a few lines of Dry the Rain thrown in for good measure. To which my friend looked saddened as the magic of The Beta Band now seems like a faint memory and hitting home those days have gone. By this point Gordon was totally shit faced. Or at least seemed to be. Hovering over the Keyboards, continually trying to instruct the rest of the band to cooperate with his musical groove. At one point John had to literally play his keyboard parts awkwardly around Gordon who was also at the keyboard. The end of the set was met by mixed signs from the crowd with some leaving in a slightly bemused way, others remaining to chant for an encore that wouldn't ever come and some standing still a little bit in shock and slightly deflated by the whole experience.
I hope The Aliens carry on making music, but I hope that they start to pull in one direction together again. Or at least seemingly so for the sake of the live performances. A somewhat disheartened review and one I have struggled to write because of it. I just can't help but feel like it was a shame. I might have caught them on a bad night; fatigue seemed to have set in a little. They certainly had moments of brilliance, and well worth seeing or listening too if you can get the chance. If anything - it will be an experience.