A degree of flakiness is to be expected from a psychedelic rock band led by a singer with a history of mental health problems. In The Aliens’ case, there was nothing flaky about their formidably tight musicianship. Gordon Anderson’s rambling stage patter, however, was challenging. It was the flipside – possibly unavoidable – to the band’s wildly imaginative songs.
Anderson, along with two of his fellow Aliens, was a founding member of The Beta Band, a curmudgeonly but musically fearless Scottish group that split up in 2004 due to lack of commercial success. Anderson wasn’t around to witness it: a mental breakdown forced him to leave the band soon after it formed in 1996. He went on to record sporadically under the name Lone Pigeon, but it was not until now that he returned to reclaim The Beta Band’s heritage in the form of The Aliens’ fabulous debut album, Astronomy for Dogs.
They opened their show with the LP’s first track, “Setting Sun”, a sprightly approximation of Jimi Hendrix jamming with The Doors. It introduced the 1960s psych-rock influences that sparkle and swirl in their music, though other songs in the set left pastiche far behind.
“Only Waiting” was an exhilarating blend of drone rock and guitar-pop that culminated in Anderson, face framed by untamed frizzy hair, chanting lyrics like a man possessed. “Glover” channelled Sgt Pepper-era Beatles before swerving into sonic meltdown. “Robot Man” was a euphoric rock rush.
Anderson’s singing – imagine Paul McCartney in a cosmic frame of mind – had a questing, irresistible momentum. The after-effects of what he calls on one track “10 long years in a mental asylum” were evident only in the tempo-sapping attacks of logorrhoea between songs. If The Aliens got their act together, they would be a great live act. But if they did so, they would not be The Aliens. Best to enjoy them as they are.