Live Review: Beach House
Camden Roundhouse, London, 02/11/2012
Support: Holy Other
Before I get down to talking about the gig itself, I feel like I should make my feelings about Beach House clear. Almost every individual I know holds a particular artist or band closer to their hearts than anything else they listen to. Somehow, the sound of that one specific group provokes a profound emotional reaction in them which little else can replicate. For some people that I’ve spoken to, The Smiths hit that magical note; for others it’s The Beatles, or anything from Laura Marling to Adele. Whatever your taste, you might know what I’m banging on about here. (If not, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs to get straight onto the live review.)
For me, although they aren’t the band that I find myself most excited by, nor the most technically inspiring or influential, Beach House have always had me totally and utterly hypnotised. Ever since I first heard Zebra in 2010, I’ve found that the music of the Baltimore duo consistently affects and touches me like little else on the market. Alex Scally’s guitar lines are as graceful as diving swans, even at their most simplistic; and there are few singers in the industry as powerful as Victoria Legrand, whose songwriting treads a perfect balance between euphoric and devastatingly sad.
Most of all, their music sounds so personal. When Legrand sings, it feels as though she sings directly to you, and even in venues such as the five-thousand-capacity Camden Roundhouse, their performances still feel intimate, as if the group are playing specially for you, and you alone. I suppose it also helps that I’m a little bit in love with Legrand, but you get the idea. Now I’ve made that clear, you can guess how excited I was on Friday night when me and my friend Ollie took the train from Leamington to catch them at the Roundhouse. Let the review commence!
I managed to bagsy a spot front-and-centre in the circular arena, making friends with Chris and Andrew – two avid dream-pop fans – right in front of the stage. The issue was, from here, things didn’t get off to a great start. The enigmatic producer behind Holy Other (I even tried to do some research, and the only thing I can confirm about Holy Other is that he is from Manchester) is undeniably a talented musician, who can conjure some hauntingly unsettling atmospheres, but for my money, he made for an absolutely awful opening act. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things chilled, but when your job is to get a crowd warmed up, having zero stage presence (he didn’t so much as glance at the audience once during his set) is jarring. In fact, he nearly looked as bored as some of the crowd members, some of whom had – and I have photos to prove this – fallen asleep, slouching on the barriers for much of his ‘performance’. I did appreciate the spooky trip-hop atmospheres which flowed and swirled for forty-five minutes, but as good as the sounds were, they were completely out of place for an opening act, and drained the audience’s enthusiasm where they should have boosted it.
Thank God, then, that Beach House’s performance was everything I was hoping it to be. From the second Legrand, Scally and touring drummer Daniel Franz clambered onstage, every iota of energy and electricity sapped by Holy Other returned to the crowd in a flash. Scally looked like a magician-for-hire in his black overcoat as he lifted his Stratocaster, and although there were a few minor sound issues during the towering Wild, everything was resolved by the emotional gut-punch of Walk In The Park. Legrand’s voice quickly warmed after a slightly husky opening, and by the time she delivered an incredible rendition of the big-lunged Heart Of Chambers, I was pure putty. I like to think I don’t gush that much, but every time her eyes fell on me in the front rows, my legs felt unsteady.
In a live capacity, the songs felt heavier than they do on record, largely due to the presence of the live drumkit and Franz’s un-showy pounding. Also, in the livelier moments of the set, Legrand would swish her head up and down in a manner surprisingly close to headbanging: through the driving rhythms of The Hours, she transformed into a blur of frizzy hair. Their set pulled mostly from Teen Dream and Bloom, although it was a joyous moment when Legrand announced the arrival of “a very old song”, the gentle shuffle of Master Of None, which sounds even better six years on, with Legrand’s broadened vocal range.
The set flowed so beautifully that even during a technical hiccup (wherein On The Sea was paused for several minutes due to a guitar feed fault), the smoothness of the concert was barely affected in the slightest. “Thank you for your kindness, all of you,” Legrand called after the encouraging applause which followed the completed version, before breaking into the psychedelic trance of New Year. The highlight, though, came just a few minutes later, when Legrand took a few minutes to address the crowd further, thanking us for our hospitality, while Scally and Franz played some corny music to drown her out. “These guys get impatient when I get sentimental,” Legrand sighed with a smile. “They get pissed off.” She then announced they were about to play a special rendition of Zebra in gratitude, and I may or may not have become slightly misty during that song’s delicate sweep.
The gig went on to close perfectly, winding down with the aching Take Care, and during the encore of 10 Mile Stereo, the stage exploded in a frantic display of red lights which damn near reduced me to an ecstatic epileptic fit. (I should quickly mention that this gig’s lighting was some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.) With one final thank-you, the band crowned their show with the majestic Irene, its climactic two minutes crashing over the crowd like tidal waves. And then they were off, disappearing back into their mysterious world, and leaving the Roundhouse cheering.
When I finally arrived home off the Waterloo train at about 1:30am (fittingly enough, just as Home Again sounded on my iPod), I was still glowing with warmth. In my life, there will be many other bands I’ll fall in love with, but it will take something very special indeed to top Beach House.
Wild // Walk In The Park // Norway // Other People // Lazuli // Heart Of Chambers // Used To Be // Master Of None // Silver Soul // The Hours // On The Sea // New Year // Zebra // Wishes // Take Care // Myth. Real Love // 10 Mile Stereo // Irene.