The Aliens, Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, London
A down-to-earth sound that's worth waiting for
Wednesday 22 October 2008
It's been a long and, dare I say, winding road that has led The Aliens to the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen door tonight.
When the trippy, electronic folksters Beta Band broke up in late-2004 under a cloud of mental illness, fans were surprised and disappointed. It was anti-climatic, and surely a group so consistently progressive, fun-loving and experimental had more in their canon?
However, following a diagnosis of schizophrenia and acute psychosis, Beta Band brainchild Gordon Anderson was, to all intents and purposes, lost; a rock'n'roll casualty to be filed alongside Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, as one who cracked under the weight of ability and psychedelic drugs.
So when in 2006 an EP and the following year an album were released by Anderson and the ex-Beta Band members John Maclean and Robin Jones under the guise of The Aliens, the music world sat up and took notice, albeit with a heavy dose of voyeurism.
And walking into the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen tonight, that particular brand of rubber-necking still seems in fashion a whole two years later.
Earlier this year, The Aliens had to cancel a handful of tour dates due to Anderson's increasing ill health and, despite the release of a Kasabian-esque second album Luna just last month, many in the audience are convinced that what they'll witness tonight will be a frazzled, chaotic mess.
Or perhaps that's just what they're hoping for.
After a huge wait, during which rumours of a backstage breakdown catch on like wildfire, the lights eventually dim and the dark, pulsating rhythms of a drum and bass loop fill the air.
Appearing via the decidedly unglamorous side door, The Aliens take the stage with Sgt Pepper jackets and Woodstock-style headbands aplenty. But wait, where is he? Where is Gordon Anderson? Surely the rumours aren't true?
Oh hang on, there he is – swinging from the brittle-looking lighting scaffold, all bed hair and Elvis Presley sunglasses; grubby T-shirt and a pallor that suggests he only leaves the house to pop to the cornershop for some fags. Not that he smokes of course – he lectures us on that particular vice early on in the set.
"Don't smoke," he drawls in his broad Fife accent. "I used to and kept waking up feeling like a person who smoked."
Anderson's off-the-wall banter takes in all sorts of subjects. As well as respiratory sermons, we get improvised stories about a Martian family who visit earth, London's rent prices and a defiantly tongue-in-cheek rant about why, on his stage, during his 15 minutes of fame, he won't just "get on with it" as one audience member requests.
It's all brilliantly off-the-cuff and reminiscent of that other troubled humourist, Tony Hancock. But this is not a one-man show and, even if it were, all the comedy in the world is worthless if the music's not great.
However, great is exactly what it is. "Only Waiting" is an instant classic, with Sixties backing vocals cushioning the barrage of psychedelic organ that swirls overhead, while a bouncy, rolling bass line brings to mind Paul McCartney at his melodic best.
The songs flit from melancholic, murder-ballad verses to a poptastic chorus with ease. It's like the music has been cut and pasted together, not in some contemporary marketing ploy to shift units, but in the artfully manic manner that Pink Floyd employed on their debut album 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'.
"Magic Man", while lacking intensity on record, comes alive here as the early-Nineties baggy drum beat is dropped in favour of pounding, Magical Mystery Tour-style Ringo-isms.
Each song feels about 10 minutes long without being dull. They are pacey and frenetic, jaw-dropping and at times anarchic, but never dull.
As the set fizzes out in a eardrum-shattering mix of "The Happy Song"and The Beatles' "Helter Skelter", Gordon Anderson ends the set as he began it, swinging from the rafters like an over-excited child.
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