All photos: Jeff Martin from last year’s gig at 930
Of all of the Baltimore artists to make it big, Beach House is the most obvious. The duo’s ethereal dream pop is easier for the layman to digest than Wye Oak’s kinetic shoegaze, Animal Collective’s kaleidoscopic mania or Dan Deacon’s animated kitsch. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand’s Pinterest-ready curls could (and probably has) launch a thousand Tumblrs. The duo has both turned down and accepted licensing deals. My nose wrinkles at the obvious synergy of “Take Care” playing as Zooey Deschanel hams it up on the Fox network, but to their credit, they denied Starbucks permission to hawk their CDs. This restraint makes me appreciate how serious Beach House takes their music even if I simultaneously have mixed feelings about their performance at the 9:30 Club Wednesday night.
In an May interview with Pitchfork, Beach House guitarist Alex Scally explained that due to the success of 2010’s Teen Dream and this year’s Bloom, “We now play to bigger audiences, which is awesome some of the time, and also worse some of the time. It made us concentrate really intensely on our playing and presentation, but you also feel like you can’t connect with some people in the back. We almost don’t want to play bigger shows than where we are now.It’s kind of perfect.” This show proved Scally right: Beach House have reached peak capacity. If they get any bigger, their house will collapse.
Poor Moon, a side project of Fleet Foxes bassist Christian Wargo and keyboardist Casey Wescott opened the evening. To little surprise, the sextet sounded exactly what you think a Fleet Foxes side project to sound like: sleepy, comfortable 1960s folk rock that alternates between gentle and inoffensive. To put things in perspective, metal acts pound Jack Daniels on stage. Rappers spark blunts. Poor Moon lit incense.
They played a selection of songs from their eponymous debut album, accenting their songs with xylophone flourishes and an occasional mandolin strum. One song featured a washboard solo (!) and there was more harmonizing than a college a capella show. After a solid performance of “Come Home,” Wescott asked the audience, “Does anybody know what our band is called?” Only a few in the crowd were paying attention. That’s because their music sounds more appropriate wafting anonymously in a coffee house than in a sold out night club.
They closed the night with an acoustic rendition of “Clouds Below,” with Largo singing, “Crickets scurry when we pass them/ And I wish they didn’t have to be so shy / When I hear the sound of their lullaby,” while his bandmates added whistles and handclaps. Poor Moon was adorable, but immediately forgettable.
Scally and Legrand, accompanied by touring drummer Daniel Franz, took the stage shortly after 9:30. The stage was overcast with ample artificial fog, obscuring the performers. Behind the trio were a series of large rectangular boxes with horizontal slits cut out so slowly rotating fans could deflect rear-projected lights. The three were clad mostly in black, Scally donning his stylish mustache, Legrand clad in her fashionable lady-jacket.
The night was more dream than pop, filled with few captivating moments and long stretches of hazy meandering. The trio opened with “Wild,” one of the finer cuts from Bloom. Legrand’s voice was as smoky as her eyeliner as she sang the opening couplet: “My mother said to me that I would get in trouble / Our father won’t come home cause he is seeing double.”
This was a show for their recently converted fans, as a vast majority of the evening’s songs were taken from their two Sub Pop albums, including 90 percent of Bloom. The only holdovers from their early era were “Heart of Chambers,” “Turtle Island,” and “Astronaut,” whose drum machine-programmed intro sounded oddly similar to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” before segueing into Legrand’s seldom used falsetto.
“Other People” was a fan favorite, the mostly coupled audience swaying back and forth as Franz’s cymbal crashes ushered in the rousing chorus. “Lazuli” was a typical quietLOUDquiet tune, with Legrand echoing into infinity, “Like no other you can’t be replaced.” Franz switched from drums to keyboard prior to “On The Sea,” helping Scally drown the audience in sound while Legrand’s hypnagogic vocals encircled you and your make-out partner.
Teen Dream and Bloom are both incredible records, the latter being one of my favorite albums of the year, so I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the two sound nearly identical. Scally says in the aforementioned Pitchfork interview, “I hate it when bands change between records.” However, performing many songs in the same key sung the same way with nearly identical melodies causes the mind to wander.
After the first 45 minutes of pretty but unstimulating music, “The Hours” served as the evening’s highlight. The minimal light show upped the ante, blasting the audience with red light. Scally’s furiously worked his guitar strings. Franz hammered away. Legrand seductive voice hypnotized as she sang, “Frightened eyes / looking back at me / Change your mind / Don’t care about me.”
This was the final show of the month-long tour for Beach House. They said they were happy to be so close to home, adding that the 9:30 Club is “one of our favorite places to play in the United States.” Prior to performing “Zebra,” Scally polled the audience about their age—there were few 50-year-olds in attendance—but everyone, regardless of youth, sang along to: “Anyway you run / You run with pose / Black and white horse / arching among us.” I breathed a sigh of relief that the band snuck in “Take Care,” my personal favorite Beach House song, bathing the audience in glorious light from the rotating mirror ball.
The encore included “10 Mile Hour” and “Irene,” two of their heaviest and most energetic tracks. Like a good performer ought to, they left their audience wanting more. If I can circle back to Scally’s earlier quote, the band was definitely focused intensely on their playing and presentation this evening. They looked and sounded—with the exception of a few minor technical mistakes—beautiful. But the size of the 9:30 club diminished the intimacy of their songs, making it difficult for the patrons to connect with the band. Indeed, the show wasn’t perfect, but it was kind of perfect. I suppose that’s all I could really ask for. But if Beach House ever gets booked to play Constitution Hall, count me out.