Beach House is by far my favorite dream pop group (which on the surface sounds like an insult, because how many dream pop groups could one person like? Answer: a lot, so it’s actually a pretty good compliment). In fact, Beach House regularly makes it into my Top 10 bands when it comes to groups doing interesting and listenable and enjoyable music these days. I was turned on to the band by a guy I used to know who adored them — so much, in fact, that he would play the very excellent song “Keep in Touch” loudly on repeat through his TV to which we would sing along over and over again from any location in the house, unintentionally re-creating this awesome scene from Last Man on Earth:
To be clear, we never had a karaoke system. That would have only slowed us down.
So Beach House is solid. I wasn’t sure what to expect in person, though, because like a lot of dream pop or other electronic-based music, their music is more suited to listening than actually watching. Not every band can or wants to put on a visual show.
The opener for Beach House was a great band called The Chamanas. This is actually the second band from the El Paso/Juarez area I’ve seen recently that has really impressed me. The border area between Texas and Mexico has always had a pretty vibrant traditional music scene, of course, but the younger bands I’ve heard make me think there’s a lot more going on there as well.
The Chamanas self-describes their sound as “Musica Fronteriza,” which seems appropriate. It’s most broadly indie pop, but there’s definitely some more traditional sounds of the area going on there, as well as a heavy dream pop influence too. Check out their dreamy single “Dulce Mal”:
When Beach House finally took the stage, they didn’t actually wow me as a show. The band, yes, WOW, the band is great. But live I wasn’t feeling it. The stage was mostly dark, most of the show, and I couldn’t really see the musicians actually making the music, which is what I think is cool about seeing live shows. Usually the visuals at shows like this are a huge part of the performance, but I found Beach Houses’ visuals lacking as well. Yeah, there were some cool lights, some boxy visuals, a starry night background, a few changes, but overall I was left feeling a bit meh.
Set-wise they played loads of their old stuff plus a lot of things off of their newer albums, which I thought was an excellent mix. Victoria LeGrand has a really soothing and unique voice, but surprisingly powerful, especially live. Alex Scally played multiple instruments, of course, and there were two more guys to round out the band. And the low-key, placid demeanor of everyone on stage actually fits in quite well with Beach Houses’ overall atmosphere, so it’s not like I can complain they weren’t energetic enough. There was little to no talking in between songs, so it was clear the band was trying to create a certain atmosphere, but really, I could have recreated the experience in my living room by turning out the lights and playing their album. Their music is just so cool — so dreamy and airy and melodic — but watching a dark stage left me flat.
I think the people closest had a better experience; they were probably able to see the artists, to appreciate the sound washing over them more, to have that more euphoric experience that Beach House often produces, but those of us in the mezzanine and higher didn’t have the same experience.
It was kind of a let down, but not that upsetting because they’re still a great band, and their live show was fairly representative of what they sound like on an album. I guess just compared to some other electronic-based bands I’ve seen recently (Ratatat, Alvvays, etc.) I think they could have done more. Interestingly enough, in addition to their regular tour dates in normal venues, the band is also doing smaller “installation” shows at various sites. The review of the one in Austin sounds positively amazing and the perfect way to see Beach House, so if you’re in one of the lucky cities, try to catch that instead of (or in addition to) their regular show.
Beach House released two decent albums right around the same time late last year: Depression Cherry (2015) and Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015). Both are solid albums, but for the new listener I would recommend starting with Teen Dream (2010) and then moving on to Devotion (2008) before their more recent stuff.
The 4/11/2016 setlist (from setlist.fm):
Walk in the Park
10 Mile Stereo
Elegy to the Void
Saltwater (just Victoria and Alex)
Check out Beach House’s upcoming tour dates, and if you do go to a show, be sure to take advantage of their awesome “Setlist Creator” where you can request your favorite songs (truly a cool thing to offer).
Beach House and The Chamanas performed at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on April 11th, 2016.