Beach House Are Unconventional Rock Gods
You know what is sorely missing in a lot of musicians these days? Mystery. Would you be more or less interested in a band if you knew every facet of their being? Would you think less of an artist if there was some sort of scandal or controversy made public about them? Would you be taken out of the live experience if the artists went on an opinionated tirade? In my opinion, less is often times more, and Baltimore dream pop band Beach House's headlining set at the Georgia Theatre in Athens was exemplary of that.
Packing into what may have been an oversold event, it was easy to become claustrophobic in the large crowd of people. Thankfully, my anxiety was eased when Beach House took the stage. They're unassuming in their appearance: guitarist Alex Scally was wearing a sweater and his hair was messy, and drummer James Barone was dressed in a simple long-sleeve shirt and pants. Singer Victoria Legrand was the most extravagantly dressed, oozing cool with a black leather trenchcoat and eyeliner. It was difficult to make everything out though, as the band was veiled in darkness throughout most of the show.
One thing that was immediately apparent was how well the concert was mixed. Quiet moments were hushed yet alluring, and when they went loud, they left the entire building shaking. This was made clear by opener "Levitation," the first track on their 2015 album Depression Cherry. Whirling synthesizers built in the forefront, with Victoria's grand vocal delivery ringing in. "There's a place I want to take you/When the train comes I will hold you" she sang, as Alex came in with backing vocals. The song transcended in its second half, with the mood becoming otherworldly as Victoria's harmonious vocals were arresting in the way they seemed to glide over the music. It was a wonderful way to open the show.
A bright guitar melody from Alex opened Bloom cut "Wild." With it being one of their most upbeat songs, the crowd became naturally engaged. Groovy drumbeats intertwined with Victoria's soothing vocals, and a feeling of youthful melancholy was felt every time the huge chorus hit. "Gila," an older favorite from 2008's Devotion, features a driving, bluesy riff that went well with Victoria's enticing delivery. Charming spoken-word vocalizations from Victoria during "PPP" really drove in the bluesy vibes from "Gila," and Alex's slide guitar at the end was simply impeccable.
"Equal Mind," a deep cut from their Bloom sessions, was accompanied by old footage of a cloudy Baltimore sky over a bridge. It represented the nostalgic tune well; bubbly synths meshing with arpeggiated guitar from Alex, and whimsical vocals from Victoria emitting a feeling of joy. Teen Dream favorite "Silver Soul" encapsulated what makes Beach House great. Earworm slide guitar from Alex did wonders for Victoria's grandiose voice. Hazy synthesizers gave the song a vibe that was equally snowy as it is smoky, and it wouldn't seem out of place as background music to a slow dance at prom in a teen film from the '80s.
Things got planetary during "Space Song." Alex's guitar sounded like it was crying as he continued with the infallible slide work, all while starry imagery was cast behind the shadowy silhouettes of the band. A subtle hip-hop style beat was entangled with Victoria's lyrics of longing during a broken relationship. The synthesizers soared throughout, as she sang lines like "Tender is the night/For a broken heart/Who will dry your eyes/When it falls apart?" in her emotive and compelling approach.
Noisy synths transitioned the song into "10 Mile Stereo." The flashing white background syncopated to the playful guitar riff and bass kicks, building into church organ as the song grew faster. Tremolo-picked guitar sets off during the chorus, with the song continuing this speed through the end as Victoria sang "Love's like a pantheon/It carries on forever." The band got to rocking during "Wishes." Rolling tom hits from Barone and energetic guitar riffs built the song, as the flashing red and green images behind them hypnotized the audience. Victoria commanded the stage in an unconventional, rock-god fashion, looking divine as she flipped her hair around during the astonishingly loud crescendo at the end.
Thank Your Lucky Stars cut "Elegy to the Void" was a somewhat darker turn for the band. Victoria took control of the guitar, providing a harmonious counter-melody to Alex. The ethereal atmosphere became downright chilling in the second half, as the cold synthesizers washed over the crowd. "Take Care" shone brightly with its wedding bell vibes. The united force of droning synths and Victoria's romantically passionate delivery felt like a gut-punch of emotion, with the repeated coda of "I'll take care of you, take care of you/That's true" striking a powerful chord with the audience.
The shoegaze was turned up to 11 during the fiery "Sparks." A vigorous, distorted riff propelled the song forward, Victoria's daring vocals blending into the song in a hallucinatory radiance. The chorus of "And it goes dark again/Just like a spark" fittingly exploded like fireworks, transmitting a sea of orange flashing lights as the band really got into the groove of the song. The set briefly ended before the band returned to the stage, thanking the audience for coming out and "joining us on this space ship."
They then performed the hidden track at the end of Bloom closer "Irene" titled "Wherever You Go." A dizzying, watery riff gave the song a druggy feel, as Victoria's hushed delivery left the crowd in a state of elation. The night closed with the magnificent favorite "Myth," displaying the vision of Beach House's sound that they have spent over a decade refining. The band's nocturnal aura reached its high point through the warm synths and intimate vocals. I especially liked the lyrics during the final verse, "You can't keep hanging on/To all that's dead and gone/If you'd built yourself a myth/You'd know just what to give." It's an introspective and hopeful song to end on, serving as an exclamation point to a night of dreamy, powerful music.
Beach House doesn't need flash and flare to captivate their audience. Sometimes all it takes is a shadowy trio putting their hearts into genuinely great tunes, using colorful imagery when needed to enhance the music rather than distract from it. They stated in an Instagram post that the cover art for their upcoming B-Sides & Rarities compilation represents completion, as everything they've recorded together is now out in the open, summing up the 12 years they've spent as a band. Their current, brief tour serves as a sort of victory lap for them, and Athens is grateful to have welcomed them at the Georgia Theatre. Their otherworldly and unique take on what rock music should be is not often seen in bands these days, and I'm excited and hopeful for where they take the project in the future.
Photography by Elyssa Velez for Bullet Music