Beach House | 07.11.12

live beach-house 75The sound is just a canvas; it’s the nuances of composition, expertise with their instruments, stirring lyrics, and hauntingly beautiful vocals that paint the picture.

The Pageant, St. Louis

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Beach House. I like that they turn down easy money by refusing to sell their music for commercial use. Even more importantly, I am in awe of their high level of craftsmanship, not only in their individual songs, but in the prowess of curating their albums. This is especially true of their last two LPs, 2010’s Teen Dream and this year’s Bloom. I believe this goal of creating a truly cohesive album is something that more musicians, especially those of the indie persuasion, are putting renewed focus into. In an age of “pick and choose” this or that 99-cent song on iTunes or Amazon, serious artisans want to create an album that, through its cohesiveness, makes the listener feel that they need the entire experience of the album and not just a song or two. Beach House has this ability in spades.

live beach-house 300The band has faced some criticism that all of their songs/albums sound “the same.” Guitarist/vocalist Alex Scally won even more of my admiration in a recent Pitchfork interview where he addressed this issue, saying, “A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the song or lyrics at all. They just go, ‘Good tunes…’ and that’s it. But we’re obsessed with songs. Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound.” Wednesday night at The Pageant, a packed house was definitely listening to those songs, riding the waves of sound that at one moment lull you into your own imagination, and the next jerk you back to reality. The sound is just a canvas; it’s the nuances of composition, expertise with their instruments, stirring lyrics, and hauntingly beautiful voice of Victoria Legrand that paint the picture.

I was not familiar with the opening band, Wild Nothing. Sometimes I will research the opener if I don’t know them, give a listen, and find out a little about them, but most of the time I really enjoy going into it with no preconceptions. From the first strains of Wild Nothing, the influence of The Cure was striking. The peppy, upbeat tunes were in stark contrast to the almost guarded and closed-in demeanor of the band members. I felt like they were all a bit in their own bubbles, but playing really solidly within those bubbles. The set grew stronger toward the last third and, despite their standoffishness, the crowd really connected with the songs. I always love the dancers, the brave, brave dancers, in the crowd; I salute you. There was one completely adorable pair who matched the throwback vibe of the music. Imagine the clearly ’80s-influenced Zooey Deschanel traveling back in time to hop up and down and swing arms with Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli character. They win cutest couple of the night.

Brace yourself—I am about to wax poetic about lighting. Beach House’s was among the best I have ever seen. Lighting designer Jack Davis previously worked with Yeasayer and was introduced to Scally and Legrand through their management company. He collaborated with Scally, who designed the slat-wall boxes containing turning “fans.” Davis’s lighting creation became the fourth kickass performer in the band. It was as if each song was lit from within, the colors, timing, and patterns perfectly coordinating with the story of the music. Screw Thomas Kinkade; this guy is the true “painter of light” with none of the cheesiness of Kinkade but all the greatness of a Baroque artist who understands the interplay of light and shadow, and the theatrical use of both. Flashing white strobes against a burning red glow for “Wild” and icy, sparkling stars for “Norway,” the illumination was a spot-on match for every song. The spinning fan blades would direct the light and the white slats of the boxes were intermittently splashed with color. Incandescent streamers would streak across the crowd and create bubbles on the wall of the upper balcony, making you feel as if you were underwater, drowning in the music. I know I am gushing, but it was beyond lovely.

This was my first time seeing Beach House live, and the experience strengthened my esteem for the band. Their performance was rich and full, and their interconnectedness should serve as an example to their opening act. It’s as if there are invisible strings joining their movements, especially between Legrand and Scally, who seem to feed off of each other. Part of their mission, and a reason why they have said they don’t really want to play venues any larger than The Pageant, is to create a real connection between themselves, the music, and the audience. Perhaps Legrand was even concerned about the size of the crowd that night, saying they wanted “to make this big room feel intimate.” She told the audience not to worry, they’d get there. Searching for words to describe the feeling of unity she was looking for, she joked that she wanted it to be “like a collective…a big pizza.” She needn’t have worried. They got there from the first opening moments and maintained that bond throughout the set, which contained a good balance of newer songs like “Lazuli” and “The Hours,” with older work like “Gila” and “Silver Soul.” I was happy to hear my two favorites, the classic “Used to Be” and the new “Wishes,” which floats through the air like dandelion seeds.

The songs of Beach House, often described as “dream pop,” tend to cause one to look inward and get lost in their own thoughts. When “Take Care” was played, I had an intense memory of my grandmother’s house. She lived in the country and their water was from a well. By her sink, she kept a metal dipper, and I loved to take long, cold sips of water from it. Obviously the lyrics have nothing to do with a metal dipper full of well water, but something about that song felt just as refreshing and crisp. I often wonder what the songs are making other people in the audience think about. I cannot be the only weirdo who makes connections like this. Whatever their other thoughts were that night, the audience had one in common: They wanted more. It’s been so long since I’ve seen actual lighters pulled out at a concert to entice an encore, I laughed out loud.

As Beach House came back onstage, Legrand took time to shake a few hands in the front row, saying, “It’s nice to touch somebody.” They launched into “10 Mile Stereo,” which ended with so much passion and power that it, rather than the smoke machine, may have been the cause of the fire alarms going off. It was fantastic, because it at first seemed to be an opening part of the final song, “Irene.” The band went with it, extending the beginning of the song, the strobes of the alarms flashing with the beat. My friend took a moment to poke fun at me for going on so much about the lighting design, saying, “Oh! The lighting! The lighting!”

Some bands are better in the studio. Some bands are better live. With Beach House, you get a band who knows what the hell they are doing no matter where they are. Since they don’t seem to want to play bigger venues, on their next tour, you’d better grab those tickets early. Beach House may not sell out to car commercials (thank God), but they will certainly sell out The Pageant in a hot second the next time they come to town. | Janet Rhoads

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