On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, I was at The Troubadour to catch one of my favorite Southern California bands, Beta Play, opening for Rita Wilson. The last time I saw them was back in October 2015 at their EP release show in Santa Barbara, California. Beta Play band members are: Tom Cantillon on vocals and guitar, Mike Cantillon on keyboard, guitar, and backing vocals, and Mike Dyer on bass and backing vocals. Recently, drummer Matt Palermo sadly left the band to pursue other interests and to spend some time in India. Joshua Daubin, from Nashville, expertly filled in on drums at this gig.
Beta Play began their set with their newest single, “The Way We Play,” which was released for purchase on iTunes the day after the show (so buy it now). The song was co-written with Glen Phillips, front man of Toad the Wet Sprocket, and is evocative of early ’80s synth pop, but with a modern twist. One could imagine a band like The Human League or singer Gary Numan quite comfortably performing this tune. Kudos to keyboardist Mike Cantillon for delivering the goods on this number. I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post.
Next they played “Innocent,” which can be found on the album Only Human, released under the band’s former moniker Tommy and the High Pilots. This fun, firecracker of a song was great for getting the audience dancing. A good number of Beta Play fans were represented in the crowd and their enthusiasm when this song was played was surely contagious. I bet some of Rita Wilson’s fans became Beta Play fans that night.
The first track from last year’s self-titled EP was up next, “I Am the Prey.” (Is this song a response to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf“?) I was standing near bassist Mike Dyer and remember being impressed by the rhythmic pulse of the bass line on this tune. I hadn’t really noticed it in the recorded mix, but standing nearby at the show helped it come through quite clearly and it felt pretty groovy. The energy built up by the band in the first two numbers, continued flowing right through this song.
For “Heaven is Under the Sun,” another tune from their EP, Tom put down his guitar and invited the crowd to dance along. He proceeded to dance around the stage while singing this song about resisting naysayers, being secure in your choices, and finding beauty in life. A charismatic vocalist, Tom, has all of the traits you’d want in a front man: an exceptionally good, unmistakable voice; the musical chops to sing, play guitar, and write songs; a charming boy-next-door demeanor; the ability to engage and energize the audience; and zero wrong dance moves.
They then performed “Do You Love Me,” a song that the band revisited from its initial incarnation as “Devil to Pay” under Tommy and the High Pilots. This well-written tune was made a bit more atmospheric and with a stronger rhythm on the drums. At the show Tom got right into the faces of the audience to deliver it. Honestly, he couldn’t have been closer if had jumped down into the crowd (which he has done on many occasions). The flawless harmony provided by Mike Cantillon made this number extra special. The voices of these brothers blend together beautifully and their enviable sense of phrasing leads to well-polished live vocals.
After having had some months to cogitate on it, I’ve decided that “Electric 22” is my favorite song from the Beta Play EP. You can hear Tom speak about the shocking (literally) origin of this song here. I hope that writing this song helped Tom lay claim to his own vitality and heal himself. The song is powerful and moving; when they played it live at The Troubadour, it rocked! The arrangement of the recorded version is solid and steady; I can easily imagine it being played on pop/rock radio stations. I wish someone would get it in rotation on the airwaves.
The band finished their set with a fan favorite from the Only Human album, “Somebody Make a Move.” Tom encouraged the audience to sing with the band in the call and response section of the song and I believe the whole room was singing. Beta Play certainly more than did their job of warming up the audience in advance of the headlining act. All of the band members were on top form for their first show in this historic venue. Tom was attuned to every little thing and graciously shared the music so directly with the audience. Mike Cantillon played and sang so perfectly and Mike Dyer was as confident on stage as I’ve ever seen him. I was impressed with Joshua for staying true to the sound and style of the band while keeping the beat the whole night. Beta Play are playing their next show at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. If you can go see them, do it!
Wanting to speak to some of my friends who were at the show before I called it an early night, and being completely unfamiliar with her material, I only stayed for a few songs of Rita Wilson’s set. From what I heard, she is a fine singer and everything she performed was pleasant to the ear. You could hear the influence of one of her favorite songwriters, Joni Mitchell in her style, with Rita even performing a song inspired by her called, “Joni.” She also reminded me of a ’90s-era Shania Twain or Sheryl Crow. She was promoting her recently released, self-titled album, so check it out if that sounds like your kind of music.