Beach House, Zomes
A week ahead of the release of its new album, Bloom, the Baltimore indie band Beach House entertained a full house for its first time in Charleston at the Music Farm on Sunday night. I recognized the popularity of Beach House by the long line circling around the building at just before 9 p.m.
Zomes, the one-man project of Lungfish alum Asa Osborne, opened the show. The skull-capped keyboardist sat front and center. The songs had an improvisational and psychedelic quality. They conjured up thoughts of what Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek might experiment with late at night, high on some sort of depressant. Zomes' albums had looped drums and guitars, but live on stage, those elements were understated or nonexistent. With nontraditional structures, songs started and ended at seemingly random times. Luckily, the set was a brisk 20 minutes and a courteous exit off the stage.
Beach House opened quietly with "Troublemaker" with synth drums pulsing, and chorus-and-reverb-drenched guitar climbing up and down. Bright blue lights were brought up one by one, from left to right, until the swell of the chorus showed all the players in venetian-blind side lighting and deep blue colors.
Singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand crooned with longing, thick with reverb. The vocals were so affected it was hard to hear what she was saying, and a few times the high notes distorted and pained my ears. White-jacketed and black-heeled, her voice provided as much melody as drone. Playing a line to make Cure frontman Robert Smith proud, guitar player Alex Scally brought the song down one note at a time, letting it ring out as the song ended.
Beach House's set was swirling a atmosphere with the affectation of a Brit-pop-influenced Interpol mixed with a slow and pleasurable pop sensibility, fully aware of how to bring hooks and melody. Vocals soared and dipped with ease. Notes were placed carefully into the wave of sound.
Bellowing and aloof, reverb was all the rage, even if rage translated into quiet swaying as the songs melded together.
A light show of back and side-lit colors and flashes of pastel lighting gave more visual appeal to musicians who rarely moved around. At the back of the stage, 20-foot-tall white wood boxes with spaces between boards let fans blow smoke onto the front of the stage and provided a canvas for a sort-of backlit color mirror. The musicians appeared as changing silhouettes. Further accented by the Legrand's long hair swaying in her face, only parting to let out brief glances and recognition.
Beach House started out as a two-piece with a drum machine. Scally provided melody with looping guitar lines, and a foot-keyboard for synth bass, and a sampler for some basic drum sounds. Legrand played two keyboards constantly with her singing as the band's main focus. A live drummer at stage left complimented and enhanced the electronic rhythm section. On the older songs, the drummer awkwardly tried to mimic simple beats, aided with drum triggers to make a snare hit sound computer-generated. And on the newer songs I didn't recognize, the beats were more interesting and added a dynamic quality to the mix.
Beach House's 17-song set was heavily focused on the new album. Logically, most of the cheers from the crowd were from hearing songs off of the 2010 album Teen Dream. Three songs into the set, the band played its first recognizable song "Norway," complete with a bluesy slide on the white Fender Stratocaster. They smartly kept coming back to songs from this record throughout the night.
By the second encore, "10 Mile Stereo," the crowd had not thinned at all throughout the 90-minute set. People close to the stage started clapping along to the slow thump of the bass drum. By the end of the song, the lights moved into a frenetic strobe, which made me turn away, but it also made the center of the crowd bounce up and down and scream for more as the high repeat of the guitar echoed. It was a strange moment. The slow-building songs spilled over into a moment of release that beguiles the seemingly somber songs. A surprise moment of energy.
The band brought down the concert with the final song "Irene," the last track from the new record. The single-note breakdown accelerated piece-by-piece with keyboards, synth bass, and expanding drum and guitar phrases. "Irene," like the band itself, grew slowly out of its simple beginnings into an intricate and impressive mix that enchants and entertains with a voice all its own.