Monday, September 17, 2012

Beach House's dream pop fantasy seduces the Music City crowd

I have not had a long love affair with Beach House. Their 2010 breakthrough, Teen Dream, caught my attention, certainly. At the time, I felt Victora Legrand sounded pretentious, and the sound was a bit too thin. That changed, obviously; Bloom is what made me a fan. Deep and expansive are two descriptors you'll hear thrown around often in any discussion of what makes the Baltimore duo's latest offering so captivating. Saturday night at Marathon Music Works, they showed us why.

Victoria Legrand empowers you to drift away into a synth covered dreamland.

This was my first trip to Marathon Music Works, being one of Nashville's newer music venues. It was a great experience, except the crowd was slightly more obnoxious than usual. There was a little throng right next me who insisted on loudly babbling all throughout the set of opener Dustin Wong. Before he came out, one guy kept hollering about when this "William Hung guy" was coming on. Nothing like a stereotype to start your evening. Never understood why people come to a show and just babble on the whole time. If you want to talk, go to a bar. Everyone else is here to see a show and you're totally distracting. So sit down and shut up. You're not nearly as important as you think you are.

That aside, Wong did an admirable job. A scan of his bio on the venue's site reveals that he at least has the right influences - Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, and Brian Eno. His set was predicated upon densely layered tape loop playbacks. Typically playing on his lower strings, his guitar emitted shrieking, high pitched lead work. Because much of his performance was based around the tape loops, his playing tended to be sporadic.

When he really hit a groove, however, his fingers flew across the fretboard in a dizzying manner that made his talent undeniable. He also sprinkled in a very rare instance of vocals, which ranged from quiet wordless chanting to pretty much shouting into the microphone. He did seem a bit more conscious of audience suggestion than most performers I have seen; whenever somebody would whoop and holler for him a slight grin would light up his face. When he was done he received a grand sendoff, though I couldn't tell if the crowd really liked him that much or if they were just that plastered.

Dustin Wong lets loose with a silent shriek of ecstasy during a crazed solo.

Thankfully, everybody decided to shut up for Beach House. Their setlist understandably focuses on their two latest records, Teen Dream and Bloom, but they've typically done an admirable job of at least touching on material from their lesser known albums. The biggest evolution is that they've moved away from being obviously electronic based and have now authored a much more organic sound that uses electronics to supplement it. Guitarist Alex Scally creates hypnotizing melodies and shifting rhythms that perfectly complement Legrand.

Her deep, husky voice was on full display on set opener "Wild," but on the whole her voice sounded a little higher and more honey sweet than I expected. Yet she still has the type of booming voice needed to deliver the big, anthemic choruses that are so essential to their sound, evidenced by her "I"LL TAKE CARE OF YOOOOUUUU" on "Take Care." The melodies and hooks are strong enough to make each song magnetizing and engaging, while the lushness of the instrumentation creates a spellbinding, even exotic flair. On "Myth," for example, Scally starts with captivating guitar lead recalling the tradition of the Cocteau Twins, while finishing with a hazy tremolo solo.

Another area Beach House excels is in setting an atmosphere. Light shows and smoke machines are nothing new, but the way the smoke and lights shroud them and obscure their visages makes them seem more grand. And it was fortunate that the sound was excellent, allowing every little flourish and nuance of their sound to truly leap out at you. In terms of pure immersion, it's hard to find an act much better than Beach House.

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