It's rare for Brian Eno to grace a British stage now-adays, especially in the context of rock music. You are more likely to encounter his work in art galleries than in the lager-and-concrete grunginess of a rock venue like the Astoria. In recent years, though, he has also involved himself in humanitarian causes such as the charity War-child, and, since 9/11 and the launch of that piratical ship of state The War on Terror upon an unbelieving world, his voice has been prominent in the Stop the War movement, and tonight's gig is a fundraiser for the charity.
Befitting our modern fractal realities, Bring Our Troops Home banners hang beside posters for the launch of the new Girls Aloud album. Punters pay in cash only at the door, and there's a Stop-the-War sign-up stand behind the mixing desk, but other than a brief opening address delivered by Eno about the humanitarian waste and pointlessness of the occupation, the stage is cleared of rhetoric or exhortation, and the raw spirit of the music holds reign.
Imogen Heap's intricate one-woman electronica opens the show, with a short set orchestrated from what looks like the contents of a hi-fi showroom c2012, the banks of electronica twinkling around her like digital fairy lights. Heap has come to prominence via the use of her music on the cult television show The OC and the hit American indie film Garden State, and her shimmering, semi-translucent musical universe is without easy compare.
Her dreamlike set segues well into Sawhney's short, beautifully textured and largely instrument performance, with Sawhney on guitar accompanied by a percussionist and Eno, standing at the back wearing the bemused-cum- impish countenance of a past master of benign disruption, and adding sweeping, poetic techno textures to Sawhney's Arabic-style picking.
Eno resumes his station on a raised platform in front of a row of laptops and gizmos as Rachid Taha's crack seven-piece band storm the stage and play merry hell with the next two hours. Eno calls Taha's music the emanation of "punk Arab consciousness", and from the Arabesque opening of "Mamachi", from Taha's most recent album, Tékitoi (Who Are You?), the packed Astoria audience get a pure emanation of that consciousness in action.
Taha has visited Britain frequently over the last few years, but this is surely one of the best concerts he has delivered. He takes the stage in a skinny black suit and leather trilby, saluting both his musicians and the crowd, twisting his body at the microphone as the song mutates into a driving Arabic rock beat. The opening salvo includes the pounding "Shuf [Look]" and the superb "H'asbu-Hum" ("Ask Them for an Explanation").
Taha looks like an archetypal rock'n'roller, and the band's guitarist Noel Delfin knows all the moves, but the music has almost nothing, apart from volume and mass, to do with the long tradition of Anglo-American Blues-based rock - the very foundations of the beat are quite different.
Eno knows this, and throughout the set adds atmospheres and textures to heighten and sharpen Taha's sound - high, keening oscillations, deep bass notes, minimal "root" sounds, such as the fantastically effective but simple two-or-three-note keyboard riff that plays underneath the song "Medina".
For the night's grandstanding conclusion, the Clash legend Mick Jones strides on in a skinny black suit and plays probably the most exciting guitar he has delivered in years. He and the band are brilliant on Taha's definitive take on "Rock the Casbah", for which the audience goes berserk, and Jones chops out some supremely dirty punk chords through the four encore performances, concluding with a pounding, tribal "Tékitoi". Then, after much bowing and salutations to the crowd, Taha and his boys bid farewell.Reuse content