Over the phone, I hear the woman present the Beta Band's John Maclean with a difficult choice.
"Would you like chocolate-covered peanuts or...pistachios?"
Maclean doesn't hesitate: It's peanuts all the way. His thickly accented publicist asks me if I would mind giving her charge a moment to enjoy one or two.
"He's really been talking his arse off today," she says. "It's the little things, you know. 'Keep your chin up, have a treat' or whatever."
Like their countrymen counterparts in Radiohead -- with whom they've struck out for an abbreviated tour that arrives at Red Rocks on Wednesday, June 20 -- members of the Beta Band have never been fond of talking about their music. In the early days, Maclean and company were prone to turn away from cameras during photo shoots; sometimes they would submit images of entirely different acts to music publications. And also like Radiohead, the Beta Band has slowly become the kind of decidedly British band that fascinates American fans and music critics -- partly because of the almost insolent way the acts refuse to get excited about all the great things everyone is saying about them.
When Hot Shots II is released domestically on Astralwerks at the end of this month, we might expect the lopsided love affair to continue. A generally more cohesive and fluid effort than the band's self-titled debut, Hot Shots feels like the missing link between the Chemical Brothers and Pink Floyd. It's a fine record, one that Maclean -- who, with his bandmates, has regularly criticized the Beta Band's first full-length -- is actually comfortable admitting that he's proud of.
"Naturally, we're very pleased with it," he says. "We definitely learned from the last one. With that one, we were pretty cocksure, and a lot of the songs were pretty half-baked. The whole process was quite hard. It was hellish, actually. This one was the total opposite. For the first time, being in the studio was actually kind of a pleasurable experience."
Hot Shots moves from dreamy, Astral Weeks-y atmospherics to trippy, slow-dub trance induction to playful, off-the-cuff hip-hop: The album's final track, "Won," is a cut-and-spliced cover of Harry Nilsson's "One," complete with straight-outta-Brooklyn MC work by Sean Redron.
"He's this kind of a rasta-guy fan of the band. We just got him up on stage, without any plan, and it just started flowing," Maclean says. "He's a rapper, but he's big into British music, which can be quite a weird combination. I'll go out for a drink with him, and he'll be talking about Depeche Mode and I'm talking about Wu Tang."
Those kinds of intersections of sound -- the kind that flow, without any plan -- lie at the heart of the Beta Band, an outfit whose groove-laden loops are as much in the service of melody as mood. Hot Shots II's tempos rise and fall throughout, underscoring the often meditative lyrics suggested by song titles such as "Human Being," "Life" and "Eclipse."
"Some people are optimistic. We prefer to point out the darker side of nature which exists," Maclean says. "I think that's what's good about our band: We switch from light to dark, but it's not at all miserable, and it's not at all cheese pop."
Cheese, it isn't. Miserable, it isn't. A welcome antidote to prefabricated rock and electronic music, it is. It's getting Beta all the time.
On Monday night, members of Denver City Council admitted they weren't totally sure what to make of a proposed ordinance that would allow individuals ages sixteen and up to re-enter the vast majority of the city's 388 cabarets -- one possible solution to the conundrum caused by the April ban on all-ages shows that involve the sale of alcohol. While some of our city's fine representatives had clearly done their homework on the issue, others seemed in dire need of a Cliff's Notes guide to the issue. Councilman Ted Hackworth, for example, strongly opposed allowing people under the age of 21 to enter cabarets because, he said, "we would be telling people as young as sixteen that it is okay for them to purchase alcohol." (Like we do at the Pepsi Center, Ted?) Hackworth suggested that businesses and venue owners now complaining about the ban's implementation should simply "sell glasses of juice for $5."
While Hackworth demonstrated that he's no Barry Fey when it comes to the inner workings of the concert-promotion business, he did reflect a council-wide confusion regarding how to safely allow minors to enjoy music with the big kids. And although Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth's proposal to lift the ban is expected to take effect before the end of the month -- it passed a preliminary vote at Monday night's meeting, with only three councilmembers voting in opposition -- it isn't likely to hold. Thanks to a sunset amendment proposed by Councilwoman Deborah Ortega, in six months the whole thing will be up for review again, and Wedgeworth's fix could be tossed altogether if it's proven to be more trouble than it's worth. The Denver Police Department and Mayor Wellington Webb have already expressed extreme discomfort at the notion of allowing sixteen-year-olds into bars, even if they're allegedly going there for the live music; during the ordinance's trial period, a task force will study its positive and negative implications. Kids, start planning to get out to see what the wide world of Denver entertainment has to offer -- before it's too late and you turn into a pumpkin. For now, though, you can assume you'll be able to join the adults once again at the end of June and enjoy the show.
To make sure that happens, you might want to share your views at the next council meeting. The public is invited to discuss the all-ages issue Monday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the City and County Building.
Some highlights of a hyperactive concert week: Grandaddy and Coldplay appear at the Fillmore on Wednesday, June 13 (attention, early readers); United Dope Front and Mofro do their thing at Tulagi on Friday, June 15 (it's the last show to include William Yale, who's moving east at month's end); a six-band double bill at the 15th Street Tavern on Saturday, June 16, starts at 6:30 p.m. with Dressy Bessy, Ladybug Transistor and Lucksmith, then moves on to Bob Log III, the Immortal Lee Country Killers and the Jealous X-Lovers at 10:30 p.m; Comotion, with the String Cheese Incident, the Anger-Marshall Band and Leftover Salmon, takes the stage at the Fox on Tuesday, June 19; and the polka deconstructionists in Brave Combo make a stop at Herman's Hideaway on Wednesday, June 20.
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