September 30, 2008
Week Of Shows, Episode Four
At no point Tuesday night at Spaceland did Beach House recall in live performance any of the carefree yet sophisticated elements so gorgeously manifested on their self-titled debut album.
Instead, the capacity crowd was treated to a lifeless waltz through the group’s material, which broadly missed the late-night summer milieu that’s made their recorded music an essential listen. While Beach House the album tends toward the dark and lethargic ala Mazzy Star and Portishead, it’s simultaneously balanced with warm, positive energy and a certain pervading loveliness – all of which was absent this night. Even a mid-set stopover at their single “Gila,” the video for which Pitchfork tapped to help launch their tv site earlier this year, failed to yield a pulse.
It could be that the material, which is a few years old, no longer provides a thrill for the band (essentially singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, though a touring drummer was present as well), because things threatened to get lively toward the end of the set when they ran through a new song, “Used To Be.” But the damage was done at that point: a third of the house had left the proceedings well before the final curtain.
On the topic of final curtains, Beach House somehow had it in their heads that it would be a good move to jerk-off the crowd and disappear behind Spaceland’s iconic blue and silver sparkly curtain for a few minutes before coming back on stage to finish their already brief set by way of an “encore” (which very, very few were calling for).
Artists are certainly allowed off-nights, and in this case maybe Beach House was tired (after all, they were seated for the entire show – though that was undoubtedly not appreciated by those standing at the back of the sold-out venue). Then again, perhaps they just haven’t yet mastered the stagecraft required to suitably sell the depth of their songs in a live context.
Whatever the case, the fixed monotone blue lighting that brushed the stage throughout didn’t really set a mood as much as it encouraged boredom to creep in. To that end, it helped recall an old SNL skit in which Frank Sinatra (Phil Hartman) gives advice to 2 Live Crew’s Luther “Luke” Campbell (Chris Rock) during a send-up of The McLaughlin Group: “don’t work blue kid, you’ll never play the big rooms.”
Of course, in the skit, “work blue” was a euphemism for using profanity, but in a literal sense, the sentiment translates here. In theory, Beach House would absolutely kill in a theatre setting, but unless they can literally get their act together, they might never get a crack at those big rooms.