The eternal knock on Baltimore’s Beach House is that they’re difficult to listen to for a stretch. That they induce drowsiness, the music too “sleepy” — the list of similar criticisms is ever-growing and shows no signs of subsiding, and Beach House is an increasingly divisive band of late. Tuesday’s show at First Avenue lent little in the way of offering a solid counter-argument to any of the detractors, but to the band’s legion of fans, who unapologetically love the mid-tempo, ethereal, semi-narcotic brand of dream pop the band trades in, this was right up their alley.
Beginning with “Levitation,” the stellar opener from their just-released Depression Cherry, the angsty spaciousness took hold immediately in the room and never really subsided for the remainder of the set. They continued with “Wild” and “Lazuli,” two of the standout tracks from 2012’s phenomenal Bloom. During “Lazuli” the sparse, gauze-and-lights stage setting slowly dimmed and an art school-damaged film loop began to play just behind singer Victoria LeGrand. “Walk in the Park” came along and with that the set had found it’s footing, for better or worse (despite the languid pace, it was mostly better).
As “PPP” was paired perfectly with “Gila,” an early track from 2008’s Devotion, the set faded to a reddish-brown backlight that was enough to make the Jesus and Mary Chain jealous. “Silver Soul” and “Wishes” played themselves out and it was sort of revelatory to look at all the faces glued to the front of the room in rapt attention at this odd, endearing band who seemed almost to have raided everyone’s dreams for ideas. And post-theft, floated them back to us in a way that was far more obtuse but somehow generated a greater understanding of who we might be; what we’re capable of — the sign of a great band in the making, or possibly one that’s already at that level.
“Wildflower” and “Zebra” began to cement the night’s effort as a memorable if imperfect performance. Maybe not one for the ages, but one that certainly offered more than its share of brilliant moments. The set ended on an exceptionally high note, with “Space Song,” a note-perfect rendition of “Myth” and “Sparks.”
They’d said few words during the set, save for a few short sentences about being happy to be in Minneapolis and the like, and it seemed that might be it. However, a few minutes after they exited stage left, they returned for an encore that was among the best I’ve ever seen with “10 Mile Stereo.” The song unfolded in a quite standard fashion to begin, but slowly bubbled and lurched into a miasma of feedback, guitar sludge, and drum thunder, the stage lights flashing at a seizure-inducing pace.
It settled and after a bit the song slowly flamed out and the whole set reminded me of that famous Maya Angelou quote: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To be fair, I learned that a long time ago, and I’ll never forget how I felt during Tuesday’s Beach House show. It was imperfect, but that didn’t make it forgettable by a long shot.
Critic’s bias: I’m a latecomer to Beach House’s work as a whole (I got into them just after Bloom was released), but had liked songs here and there prior. That said, in the last year or so, “Norway” (which I was sad not to hear Tuesday) has become one of my all-time favorite songs by any band. Getting into Beach House takes some effort, but the payoff is almost unfathomably fantastic.
The crowd: Hard to pin down as leaning any particular way. I was expecting a roomful of vinylheads and it definitely wasn’t that. Beach House’s appeal is slowly becoming more universal, it seems.
Overhead in the crowd: “If I threaten to piss on your shoes, will I make it into your [recap]?” Yes, you will.
Notebook dump: This encore. I didn’t think the band had it in them.
Walk in the Park
Heart of Chambers
10 Mile Stereo