Beach House At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Friday August 3rd 2018
If you are a photographer trying to get a decent photo during a Beach House concert, you are constantly trying to find some light, some tiny glimpse of light,… and it eventually comes, but you have to be very patient and focused. It’s actually a bit the same for their music, the hooks eventually arrive, bright and rewarding like this ray of light on Victoria Legrand’s face, but you have to be patient.
Beach House were playing their first night at Hollywood Forever Cemetery last night, and the venue fitted their music to perfection, as a cemetery always comes with a dose of gravitas and majestic mystery.
Another duo from Baltimore, called Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, opened the show at sunset with Ed Schrader’s tenor voice raising over recorded tapes and plenty of beats coming from the bass of his bandmate Devlin Rice. They were very funny, a sort of comedy duo with serious pipes and a punk bravado, a Broadway musical played over a sort of INXS devil-inside tempo. Between the songs, singer Ed Schrader did some powerful a cappella renditions of ‘Circle of Life’ and other Elton John’s classics with the most convincing fervor I had seen for a long time, but their entire set was intense, with tunes sang with a visceral fire in the belly and excited dance moves. ‘Usually I get in a lot of trouble for talking about Elton John’, he told us. They had a song for the birds, ‘Seagul’, which started like a noir-finger-clapping-post-punk number, a song about David Bowie, and other ones about Baltimore, Puerto Rico (‘Culebra’), while Schrader’s deep vocals, occasionally soaring in a falsetto, combined with his dance moves over intense beats, were like Bronski Beat meets Ian Curtis, with the theatrics of a Broadway play.
Beach House have to really like mystery, they played in the dark surrounded by fog machines, while their two silhouettes were often reduced to two dark shadows in front of a smoggy or colored background. Movement is not what they do, vocalist Victoria Legrand stands up almost immobile behind her keyboard while Alex Scally sits at another keyboard or takes his guitar while adding backup vocals, making the stage action so low-key that you could close your eyes and not miss very much of the show. Sure, the light effects were beautiful, but there was a real distance between the crowd and the band that didn’t really change for the entire show.
Their music is deeply immersive and sprawls very slowly, but its magic dwells in Legrand’s vocals at 80 to 90 %, her dark, sad, smoky and emotional voice brings a palpable vulnerability to the songs, which seem habited by a rapturous ghost and haunting memories. Memories of what? This needs to be defined for everyone, as for me, it was my first time seeing them, beside catching a glimpse of their set from afar during a massive music festival years ago. On Friday night, I was almost front row, but because of the fog and the lighting, the duo had never been so distant, and their music had never sounded more like an impenetrable mystery. At the beginning of each song, I thought I was recognizing one I knew, then they were losing me in an unknown direction, sounding familiar and unexplored at the same time.
However, it’s probably my fault, I haven’t listened to their music enough, despite the fact that the Baltimore duo has already released seven albums, making up a catalogue of 77 songs, while their last album, simply called ‘7’, just came out last May. If I knew a few songs, their main ‘hits’, ‘Myth’ or ‘Space Song’, that they obviously played, I can’t say I was reacting at each tune like these people around me… however these well-known songs made the live experience worth it.
You could describe Beach House’s music with a cliché, like dreamy soundscapes, or you could be more imaginative and try to get into all the subtleties and nuances of their music, which actually abound. I simply would say that their genre-escaping style occupies a special niche, a sonic duality mixing intimacy and grandiosity, fragility and loudness.
If their soundspaces filled the cemetery like a wide sheet wrapping the night with Legrand’s vocals working like a giant echo of Nico, at the end, the experience was unfolding at a very slow pace. Sure, Victoria’s hair brushed and whipped the keys a few times, with even a certain degree of violence, sure, their drummer was discreetly adding crushing beats to their already complicated layers, but their stage presence evaporated behind this wall of fog, and the connection with the crowd only existed when they told us they were happy to be there. But this is probably what they wanted, cultivating a mystery to preserve their day-to-night-dream.
As expected, they played plenty of songs from ‘7’, and revisited their catalogue with songs from ‘Bloom’, ‘Depression Cherry’, ‘Teen Dream’, and the crowd loved each single song they played, screaming in unison during ‘Master of None’, ‘Cry all the time/Cause I’m not having fun’ as a celebration of their night out…
I will keep in mind Victoria’s voice, beautiful and luminous soaring above the music which was booming and blooming, and making everyone aware of space and time during a Los Angeles warm summer night… I will keep in mind their sumptuous rendition of ‘Myth’, probably my favorite song of theirs, but there were moments when my mind was floating between layers of fog. Attending a Beach House concert is like staring at this grand night sky filled with city lights… it’s beautiful and peaceful, it’s a moment to have a grip on this idea of eternity and transcendence you keep in the back of your mind, even if it’s a secular one. But you wonder how long you can stare at it? Without fire, the idea of heaven has always looked like a rather boring idea to me, Hollywood forever, beatitude forever, sometimes beauty alone seems unbearable.
Walk in the Park
Master of None
Drunk in LA
10 Mile Stereo
Elegy to the Void
Girl of the Year