Friday, August 21, 2015

Beach House Live: A Review At The Pearl Street Nightclub

Photos courtesy of MassLive, Shaina Mishkin

Wednesday night, August 19th, Beach House performed at the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton, Massachusetts, and yours truly was on hand. To those not in the know, Northampton is a relatively small, quaint city, often regarded as one of the more progressive places in the country, a tag that the occupants of the city thrive on. Pearl Street Nightclub is one of the many staples of the city, in this case though not off its quality, because that’s adequate at best, but the tenure its had in the city. Maybe this is what lured Beach House, a band easily capable of performing in Boston, to the confines of a concert hall housing not more than 300 people. Their sound, style, and personality has always been reserved, played best in tight quarters amongst close friends than packed arenas for all wandering ears, even if the music of their latest three albums deserved such warrant. All issues aside, from the sweat to the mic feedback, my time last night in the second row, 10 feet from Victoria and Alex, was a joy. 

Before the famed Indie duo came from the back, their Baltimore counterparts, Romantic States, opened. With not much of a name for themselves I couldn’t help but seeing them as friends of the band, a mantle they held upon arriving, awkward and quiet in the most adorable kind of way. Having only the bare essentials, white t-shirts and jeans, a guitar and a drum set, these two, Jim Triplett and Ilenia Madelaire, took to the stage with nerves to be expected, but talents that far exceeded their appearance. Now, they didn’t wow, their Bandcamp labels them, amongst more appropriately titled genres, as Experimental Pop, neither of which I found whilst listening to them. A Punk-Rock edge covered their set, the drums, played by Madelaire, were focused and hard, on point and unwavering from the tracks, while the guitar, played by Triplett, never really attempted anything advanced, more so just a facilitator of the music, a con I can forgive given Triplett’s necessity to sing as well. That singing was fairly adequate, nothing grand or interesting, but it provided the sound with lyrics that paired effortlessly, their namesake, Romantic States, a perfect title to give off that downtrodden, love-less vibe. 

I couldn’t help but enjoy them though. While they brought nothing ground-breaking, it was that lack, a reticent existence where lovable “1, 2, 3, 4’s” were heard mumbling over the mic and an after-show clean-up with the crew that fulfilled their struggling musician model. The crowd, more or less because of its sparsity to begin with, wasn’t offering much in return, apart from applause following each track. That crowd, myself included, had to then wait for what seemed to be 30-45 minutes in the quickly sweat-enducing heat whilst listening to odd, peculiarly inviting drone of what seemed to be Depression Cherry’s evil B-side. Taking his “I wouldn’t recognize him on the street”-vibe to new levels, during preparation, Alex Scally, came out on stage with a workers lanyard around his neck to fine-tune his guitars with hardly a single soul noticing. It was tongue-in-cheek for sure, but when it came time for action the lanyard was no more, just an all-black extra-large t-shirt and some jeans with Victoria accompanying him in a black Duster and ripped jeans. Normally, this wouldn’t a topic of conversation, but due to the immense heat with hundreds crammed into a small room their excessive wear caused talk of sweat, perversion, and slip n’ slides to cover their transitions between songs, lightening the mood with Victoria announcing a new way to mosh pit with “less violence and more perversion.”

There was few complaints to be had from the crowd, everyone was into it, cheering immensely after each song, swaying along to the different instruments within each. Everyone was respectable, there was no bumping or obnoxious people, at least where I was situated. Coming from Beach House fans I wouldn’t expect anything else, cool, calm, and collected seems to be the motto. As for the music, apart from constant sound problems, it was about what you’d expect. Not that that’s a negative, more that Victoria, Alex, and their two band mates filling in on Drums and Bass, recreated most of the songs to a tee, with their swelling, dream-like sound captured in the studio being played out live in front of me. They did alter a handful of songs, either extending their outros to rousing effect or holding on a key until it transitioned beautifully into the next track. The biggest omission, and my biggest con of the show, was the severe lack of their self-titled and Devotion, totaling just one song between the two. I understand the reasons, their latest three are much more prone to concert performances, but with their similarities in sound all the tracks seemed to blend together, whereas if their earlier works found a way in they’d split things up nicely. It wasn’t until their encore that they played ‘Turtle Island,’ and for the small song it is on the album it came out phenomenally live, with Victoria’s hollering taking on new life as it ended the track.

I couldn’t help but feel the lack of the beginnings wasn’t on the mind of everyone there. Yes, Teen Dream and Bloom made them famous, but being at a Beach House concert you’d expect most there to be familiar with their older works. I even overheard one girl whilst waiting in line question “do you think they have an organ in that trailer?” an instrument used occasionally on their earlier works but none on their latest. As for other issues, the sound, when it was off, was atrocious. The feedback was noticeable at least once in every song, twice causing pierced ears in the crowd. These moments, as would be expected, took Beach House out of the moment. And while I can’t say for sure, it seemed as though a loud feedback issue caused them to abruptly cut off ‘Sparks’ during its high moment. Speaking of ‘Sparks,’ the raring guitar that made headlines upon its release, orchestrated beautifully by Alex, had some problems getting going, with the distortion not working. It ended up being hilarious as the crowd cheered at the failure, Victoria joining them, screaming “It’s not workingggggggg!” as the audience reached its highest decibels all night. Alex though, for all the problems the band endured, impressed me the most. Now I might not have seen Victoria’s sweat because of her attire, but Alex was drenched, with sweat dripping off him at an alarming rate. By the shows end there was a legit puddle underneath his chair, a testament to the work he put in to impress the paying crowd. 

As for the songs, they played six off Depression Cherry, the first six to be exact. ‘PPP,’ with its outro, was primed for a spectacular on-stage performance and it delivered, '10:37' was surprisingly good, and ‘Space Song’ was a bit disappointing as the song’s best moment came out dull and nearly mute. Elsewhere, ‘Wishes,’ being one of my least favorites from Bloom, was stellar, a climatic moment that they rightfully ended the show on. That is, of course, before they came out, with Victoria greeting the crowd hand-by-hand, and played ‘Turtle Island’ and ’10 Mile Stereo.’ The latter was possibly the best performance all night, as the rousing climax to the song played perfectly as a sendoff to the night. It was loud and progressive with a beautifully sincere touch. They opened the show however on strange terms, playing the hidden track on Bloom, ‘Wherever You Go.’ While it was rather subdued and peculiar, it had me excited for the show as that track was a return to form of their older sound, leaving me disappointed that they never expanded upon it. And ‘Take Care,’ as would be expected being one of their litany of stellar closers, played awesome live, as Victoria sang the song’s most-noted lyrics whilst looking at Alex who provided backup. 

As a whole, even with the problems endured, the show was a blast. The small venue played well to Beach House’s style, the minimalist approach to their set, with only a curtain draped behind them providing a limited, but impactful light show, further accentuated their quaint, nestled atmosphere. Watching Alex perform his heart out was a treat, as I ended up gifting equal attention to him as Victoria. Her randomly spastic movements were a treat though, where she’d belt out a Heavy Metal-like head nod at the softest of keyboard melodies. Outside the confines of the ballroom was merch, two shirts, a delicately-crafted poster, and vinlys or cd’s of their albums, including the ability to pre-order the clear, red velvet-wrapped Depression Cherry vinyl. The heat protruding from everyone in there though made the exit a swift and heady one, with the chances of stopping to consider a purchase an afterthought. Overall i’d say, if you have the chance to see Beach House perform live, go for it. Their tunes are gorgeous, the singing is melodic and entrancing, and watching the two show off their instrumental talents was a treat.

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