Lost in the dizzying, blinded worship of music idols, it can be easy for fans not to notice that a show in a familiar venue, with a couple of bars, a smoking section, an opening act, the main set, an encore, and applause, can be, well, standard. It must be just as easy for bands to fall in to the rote habit of touring these same venues, playing the same setlists night after night, all the while turning a blind eye to the fact that some of their theater is contrived. But every now and then comes an opportunity to experience a different sort of musical performance, one that requires extra creative forethought on the part of the artist, and an open mind on the part of the audience.
So when a few hundred fans lined up Thursday night at a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles with pillows under their arms, it was clear that this was fixing to be an experience and not just another concert.
In town between Coachella appearances, Baltimore’s Beach House was on hand to provide the unique escape. Billed as an “installation show,” one of only a dozen to be performed throughout the tour in “galleries, art spaces, community centers, and various other alternative venues,” the band explained the concept back in February:
“It has always been difficult to carry the initial moments of creativity that inspire our music through the process of making and releasing a record. There are many chances along the way for the feeling to get lost. A lot of “bedroom” bands experience this when they get to the studio or the stage. This installation performance is an attempt to elicit this pure, embryonic state of mind for ourselves and our audience.”
The special instruction emailed to ticket holders the day of the show to bring a pillow, then, makes some sense if witnessing a so-called bedroom band. Truth be told, Beach House’s droned out sound, pulled entirely from the same sonic tapestry, could fairly be dubbed pillow rock. But that isn’t a knock. In fact, the ability to command the attention of listeners within the confines of what amounts to a single broad musical stroke is remarkable.
Prior to the band’s obscured appearance behind a white mesh screen, the darkened room buzzed with atmospheric, sustained low bass notes, and other ambient Eno je ne sais quoi created by Beach House’s Alex Scally specifically for the installation shows. There was a shared curiosity in the crowd, as they sat motionless on their pillows, abiding. Their collective murmured chatter managed to become interwoven with the fuzzed out house music. A simple purple light glowed on stage, perhaps a somber nod to the day’s tragic news.
The musical performance began much in the way Beach House began their career, with “Saltwater”, the lead track from their 2006 self-titled debut. One of their signature elements, a descending organ/synth, gave way to a train’s horn in the night fog intro of the ghostly “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” Projection of colorful images of flowers – a theme to be explored throughout the night – began on the side walls of the narrow room.
Beach House’s music, both on record and when performed live, has a way of masking Victoria Legrand’s monotone vocals to the point where the lyrics can become nearly indistinguishable from mere rises and falls in cadence, her voice but a haunting instrument in the ensemble.
During “Turtle Island” from 2008’s Devotion, the room became illuminated via 4 shelves, each containing 40-50 artificial floral arrangements. The edges of the flowers’ petals and leaves were lit up by hundreds of microscopic light dots that slowly faded from one color to another. The effect was sublimely psychedelic, and a successful effort to ensure the audience felt enveloped by Beach House’s art, and not left to simply stare at the stage.
“One Thing” off of Thank Your Lucky Stars (one of their two 2015 albums), was similarly stoney, but ended with Legrand coming as close to soul singing as she would all night. Scally finished the kill with a life-affirming guitar solo that was restrained just enough to stay true to the band’s aural ethos, before a prerecorded outro of falling rain cooled things down. “House on the Hill” later ended with a similar naturalist flair; the recorded sound of wind gusts. “10:37”, off of the band’s other 2015 album, Depression Cherry, was gorgeous. From a percussion-laden intro to steel drum-sounding keys, it filled the house with the radiating brightness of the beach.
Amidst all of the well-conceived spectacle, it was easy to lose track of Legrand and Scally behind their screen, their presence as elusive as many of their lyrics. So much so that one attendee later confessed that it wasn’t until the tenth song that he even took notice that the show was being played by just the two members of Beach House, and not by any additional members of their touring band.
Just as the show began with their first album’s first song, it ended with their last album’s last song; the coda was the skipping “Somewhere Tonight”. Legrand appropriately sang, “(l)et us find elation, somewhere in a ballroom tonight, nowhere on an ordinary night.” When the music ended, Scally uttered the only spoken words from the band of the entire night: “Thank you all very much for coming. Thank you.”
The installation concept was thoughtful and special, the presentation cinematic, melancholy and heady. Beach House’s music is never quite any one thing at any singular point in time, but many of things all at once.
After the band’s exit, the shelves of the otherworldly flowers stayed lit long enough for people to start to jockey in to position for a photo using cellphones that were banned during the performance. But after only ten minutes or so, plugs were pulled, the remaining attendees left in the dark.
- The Traveller
- Apple Orchard
- Turtle Island
- One Thing
- She’s So Lovely
- House on the Hill
- Master of None
- On the Sea
- Tokyo Witch
- Rough Song
- Somewhere Tonight