Beach House at Pabst Theater
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The music of Baltimore duo Beach House has always belied its sunny moniker: The gauzy blend of Victoria Legrand’s smoky, Nico-esque vocals and Alex Scally’s murmuring keyboards and majestic guitars is designed for staring into space in a dark room, not a sandy volleyball game in July. Seeing the band live Saturday at Pabst Theater was more or less the same experience; actually, “see” isn’t really an appropriate word, as Legrand and Scally were mostly obscured by varying shades of darkness throughout their set. Perhaps it was an appropriate choice for a group heavy on atmosphere and “mystery,” but at times the non-lighting lighting made the concert a poor substitute for simply staying at home and listening to Beach House’s beguiling new album Teen Dream at home with headphones and a bottle of wine.
It’s too bad, because Beach House has apparently addressed the inherent problems with conveying the sonic molasses of its records in a live setting. Essentially The Carpenters for the codeine set, Beach House is a one-dimensional band that has worked its narrow vein of mid-tempo haze-pop very well over the course of three albums, but live the group displayed a surprising (though relative) range of dynamics. Touring with a live drummer, Legrand and Scally played the songs off of Teen Dream a little faster and heavier, giving hazy gems like “Lover Of Mine” and “Walk In The Park” the necessary heft to move the increasingly larger rooms the band has been playing lately. The canned backing vocal tracks on “Gila” from 2008’s Devotion betrayed Beach House’s debt to the studio, but for the most part the songs came off more energetically live than could've been reasonably expected.
Nevertheless, even a “rocker” like “Zebra” didn’t exactly inspire rounds of hootin’ and foot-stompin’, though Legrand did express gratitude that some audience members decided to stand up. But it might have been just to get a better view, as the sensuous music constantly battled with the band’s monochromatic visual presentation, which included weird, swiveling tinfoil-covered diamonds that looked like they were lifted from a space-themed high-school prom, but thankfully reflected occasional flecks of light for the strained corneas in the audience.
Even when cloaked in frustratingly impenetrable layers of darkness, Legrand has charisma and vocal chops to burn, bellowing with alluring sexiness on the Teen Dream standout “Silver Soul.” The bobbing energy of Legrand’s performance on the glistening ballad “Norway” cut through the shadows, though her heaping mane of hair made her look a bit like the hippest member of the Fraggle Rock band. Hell, maybe it really was a member of the Fraggle Rock band. Either way, the next time I see Beach House, I look forward to actually seeing them.