Last October, Baltimore-based dream pop band Beach House surprised the music world
by releasing their second full-length studio album in the span of six weeks. It was an unexpected move, one that raised eyebrows, but that ultimately went over well, as Thank Your Lucky Stars
received critical acclaim on a similar level as its immediate predecessor, Depression Cherry
, and the band's four previous records.
By contrast, Beach House's Tuesday show at the Knitting Factory was about what you'd expect out of a live translation of the band's spacey, multi-layered sound if you've spent much time listening to them. Just after 9 pm and following intermittent cries from the mostly relaxed audience, vocalist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, the band's founding members, sauntered onstage alongside their two tourmates, who took the drums and synth. Without fanfare, the band launched into "Levitation," and Legrand immediately proved wrong anyone in the room who may have doubted her ability to showcase her startlingly smooth, deep vocals in a live setting. The setlist was varied, giving adequate focus to fan-favorite albums Bloom
and Teen Dream
(though oddly forgoing a performance of "Zebra"), and going for a few deeper cuts, such as "Master of None" from the band's debut.
Audience members stayed fairly still throughout. Beach House's mellow tunes may not lend themselves well to a mosh pit, but even simple swaying was not a universal act among those on the floor. The demographic was mixed: a hunched, unassuming man in his late twenties stood near me, head-bobbing slightly on occasion, hands on the waist of his girlfriend in front of him; a blonde, nearly afro'd teenager in a baggy t-shirt pushed in front of me at one point, wasting no time as he lit a joint and started grooving like a disco dancer in slow motion; a short girl in a bandana stood nearby, chatting with friends on occasion, but mostly staying rooted to one spot, eyes glued to the performers onstage. At one point, a long-haired teen next to me gushed quietly to his girlfriend about how "they're such great performers."
One fact unites the crowd: most everyone seems to be there to appreciate the music. Very few seem intent on doing anything to distract themselves from the sonic soundscapes permeating the room. Most audiences members appear thoroughly in their own zone, and a surprisingly comfortable amount of personal space exists on the floor despite the large size of the crowd. Perhaps Beach House's music is simply ripe for introspection, but for whatever reason, no one seems too concerned with much outside of themselves and the band's sounds.
I close my eyes a few times for just a moment or two, but have trouble tearing my vision away from the entrancing light show that carries on behind the band. Sometimes, all that's visible of the band members themselves are their silhouettes. At a few strategic moments, like the pair of quick builds in "Wishes" that break all at once into cascades of synth-y goodness complemented by Legrand's vocals, the lights blare brightly. It's at moments like these that the drums kick in full force: their heavy vibrations felt through the concrete floor, and the bodies around me start moving like in a typical youth-dominated crowd. But it's Beach House's choice to keep things mostly restrained and unobtrusive, which ensures that these few bursts of energy carry enormous impact.
The biggest disappointment of the night is the lack of such impact accompanying Beach House's biggest song, "Myth." The pre-recorded beat and synth line that signals that song's beginning so closely resembles the studio version that there's very little extra excitement in hearing the tune performed live. But Beach House doesn't let this halted momentum turn into a noticeable blemish, as Scally picks up the slack with an incredible, effects-driven live modification of the song's closing guitar solo, followed by a stirring, soaring rendition of "Sparks" to close out the main set.
At a few points throughout the night, Legrand and Scally address the audience, voicing their excitement at being in Spokane for the first time and their appreciation of the audience for coming out. But by and large, the duo focus on pumping out their signature tunes with skill and grace, showcasing great talent as musicians and an immersive ability to capture audience members in trance-like states.
The show may lack in hype, but not every concert needs to inspire its listeners to jump up and down. Beach House proves well suited to something (fittingly) dreamier.