review by Michael Todd | photos by Bridget McQuillan
Striding into darkness at Slowdown on Monday night, Beach House preached a pitch-perfect pretentiousness that encouraged the false edict that it’s OK to love assholes.
With her frequent vocal glissandos up and down the tonal slide, singer and organ player Victoria Legrand yawned in tune with the Baltimore band’s sleepy music. Guitarist and organ pedal player Alex Scally slided up and down his fretboard, finding solace occasionally in minor chords. Touring drummer Dan Franz augmented the electronic splats, buzzes and fizzles of Beach House’s recorded rhythm section, and it’s a shame his less dour disposition with, get this, some actual interest in the crowd didn’t deserve him a microphone to speak into.
The mouthpiece and figurehead for Beach House is Legrand, and it’s she who decides when the pinpoints of dull light on the walls and in the balcony at the venue are too bright. Halfway through what was an enjoyable haunted house aesthetic — with greens, purples and reds falling onto the dark stage to backdrop the equally enjoyable, silvery and well-defined set of songs — Legrand asked that the minimal house lights be snuffed out because the audience was feeling too self-conscious.
Thank you, Legrand, for understanding the feelings of a packed house of complicated people. On their records, Beach House advances fluidly through the ebb and flow of their grand, melodic music because they don’t get to speak, emote with careless gestures or show their true selves through their actions. In person, the in-between-songs demands, the one-song encore and the refusal to allow detachable-lens cameras disfigures their beautiful work. Riding the coattails of the magnificent notes they write, Beach House is a band that asks, “Does anyone remember the first time we played Omaha?” and when a smattering of applause replies, they express their distaste as if to say, “We knew Beach House before they were popular. Now we’re big enough that we don’t need the less-devoted of you.”
Opener Poor Moon isn’t too big and didn’t fail overall because of personalities that overshadowed the music. With frequent three-part harmonies, mandolin, electric vibraphone and such interesting aural artifacts as a mini washboard with small bells played with a thimble, the fellow Sub Pop band sounds like Fleet Foxes on a weekend getaway to Southern California. Of course, as was the main talking point after the set, Poor Moon includes two members of Fleet Foxes: Casey Wescott and Christian Wargo.
Two segues’ worth of key changes and instrument swaps proved a love for musical theatrics, but nothing came off as too scripted. The tonally higher guitars, bells and electric piano, as well as the alto and tenor of the vocals settled nicely on the steady but complex drumming and bass, like a slight fog drifting onto a beach. Only toward the end of their set — when first, part of the band left the stage, and second, when their sound drove back up the California coast to the Northwest — did Poor Moon not incite a bit of joyful swaying.
It was the familiar, more meditative and less sunny songs that didn’t excite the “feel good” chemicals in my veins. After all, that’s what it comes down to, whether or not the listener feels good. Awkward, angry and woefully sad songs can reach someone at the right time, too, but in a better world, only the emotions would come through. What left a knot in my stomach at the end of Monday’s concert at Slowdown, though, were the ostentatious concerns of Beach House that overshadowed their well-composed music. Here’s hoping it doesn’t become a trend.
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He thanks his pair of drivers for the carpools down to Omaha and back. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.