In 1980, the weekly music paper Melody Maker declared Talking Heads’ Remain In Light album to be its Album Of The Year, citing its innovative African rhythmic influences as a key part of the album’s appeal.  Two years later in the summer of 1982, rival paper NME was featuring four-page articles about African bands such as King Sunny Adé And His African Beats and Orchestra Makassy who were, quite rightly, causing a bit of a stir with their respective albums Juju Music and Agwaya.  Now, some 37 years after the release of Remain In Light, London Astrobeat Orchestra have taken  Talking Heads’ back catalogue and mixed it up with the musical styles of West Africa to produce something really extraordinary.

At the risk of making a sweeping generalisation, I’d guess that the majority of the audience have made their way here tonight because of the Talking Heads connection rather than any deep-seated love for soukous or chimurenga.  The band have been billed as “performing Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense” and having purposely not watched any YouTube clips or read any reviews I don’t  know what to expect but on the basis of that publicity, I’m kind  of expecting some sort of recreation of the Stop Making Sense film, from its stripped down Psycho Killer intro onwards.  That, it is soon apparent, is not what these guys do.

Unlike any other tribute band I have seen, London Astrobeat Orchestra take Talking Heads’ source material and use it as a launchpad to create something truly unique; a starting point for an incredible musical adventure.  The band open with Burning Down The House and within 30 seconds I have a grin on my face that won’t be going anywhere for the next two and half hours.  Band leader and bassist Edd Bateman, a man for whom the phrase “the dusty end of the neck” could not be more inappropriate, lays down a bubbling ever-changing bassline.  Drummer Badou Ndiaye and djembe player Modou Ndiaye Cissokho overlay skittering rhythms while guitarist  King Fire and Mosi Conde on kora add dazzlingly complex embellishments.  Lead singer and guitarist Julian Burdock provides some bluesy guitar that probably wouldn’t be allowed within a million miles of an actual Talking Heads performance but fits right in here.

There is a moment in the Stop Making Sense film, about halfway through, when the band’s performance reaches such a peak that I remember thinking the film would have to end because it couldn’t possibly get any better.  I had the same feeling about halfway through London Astrobeat Orchestra’s first song.  I honestly think if they had said “thank you and goodnight” I could have gone home happy.  Fortunately, that was never going to happen and things just kept getting better.  Life During Wartime and Once In A Lifetime and Girlfriend Is Better are similarly stunning, the songs stretching out into wildly inventive excursions.  “I’ve got a girlfriend with bows in her hair” sings Julian, “and nothing is better than that”.  Right now, nothing is better than this.

The band take a break during which DJ Tom Caulker keeps us entertained with a wonderfully eclectic selection of songs.  I’m left with a fear though, that the momentum built up during the first set will have evaporated and that the second half will fail to match it. Such fears are happily groundless.  Things do start at a little bit of a more relaxed pace as Julian begins a solo version of Psycho Killer, using a loop pedal to build up a rhythm guitar and bass line that possibly tips a nod to Hugh Masakela’s Stimela.  The song is a fine opportunity for an audience sing along with Julian adding some more bluesy guitar and some electronic interjections from a kaos pad.  The rest of the band join in towards the end of the song before moving into This Must Be The Place.  By the time we get through Slippery People and into Take Me To The River I am back to being left stunned again by the sheer interplay and musical telepathy on display; if the Grateful Dead had been born in Congo, Guinea or  Senegal then I imagine this is what they would have sounded like.

An ecstatic Road To Nowhere brings what is simply one if the best gigs I have ever seen to an end.  If London Astrobeat Orchestra are playing within a hundred miles of you, just go.  You can thank me later.

Set list

Burning Down The House

Life During Wartime

Once In A lifetime

Girlfriend Is Better

Psycho Killer

This must Be The Place

Slippery People

Take Me To The River

Road To Nowhere

John Scott

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