In concert: Beach House (Toronto; October 13, 2012)

 

It’s just my unpaid opinion Beach House might be the best band on the planet today, but I like my logic – 2010’s best album, maybe 2012’s, too – and even more, I like how they supported the claim by laying nearly every one of Teen Dream’s and Bloom’s jewels out before a Toronto crowd last Saturday (October 13, 2012).

On a night when Major League Baseball appropriated the current record’s opening track as table-setting music for a national T.V. audience, Beach House had its own gang packed shoulder-to-shoulder at the Kool Haus, no mere club date this, but rather a venerable “transitional” spot for indies on the verge of endorsement nirvana (think The Cardigans after Romeo + Juliet, or The National after Obama). Just when I think Beach House’s smoky ruminations might go over the gen pop’s head I remember The Cure – a band this group occasionally evokes on Bloom – have played stadiums for the past 25 years.

For 93 minutes and 18 songs, the Kool Haus crowd tensed and released, tensed and released. None of the usual flinty response from the locals here – instead, lusty shouts of song recognition, boisterous mid-song applause after certain passages, plumes of pot smoke, and the telltale thumbprint of any surging band: couples locked in our-song embraces. Bloom came out after the school year ended, so they had the summer to explore its concupiscent possibilities. And for those who didn’t, there was Victoria Legrand directing everyone to acquire at least one telephone number before heading home. Now, there’s someone who knows her audience.

 

Justifiably proud of the fact they’ve developed into a marvellous band, Legrand and Alex Scally ignored 2006’s watery debut and only dipped twice into the nearly-there Devotion, so the set provided a very of-the-moment picture of the Beach House approach: triggered synth-and-rhythm patterns overlaid with Scally’s frankly amazing guitar effects, Legrand’s keyboard chordings and a live percussionist (I’d call Daniel Franz a drummer, but that would minimize the artful breadth of his playing style).

It’s formulaic – hey, so was Motown – but they’ve kitchen-sinked the songs with winning hands: the keyboard-and-guitar interplay full of seductive dynamics and subtly rhythmic invocations; the woozily romantic, slightly fatalistic lyrics expressively sung in soaring lines. As the melodies have grown sharper and the vocals more confident, it’s no wonder Beach House has outpaced its dream-pop peers and rejected their own early records; the rousing tangibility of their newer songs is well beyond most others’ ken.

 

Legrand’s a dynamite singer. With hardly any tremolo in her elongated melodic lines, her dense, husky voice weaves in and out of similarly stately keyboard leads, creating an intense, mid-range wash that always seems on the verge of sunburst. And when she goes for it – usually accompanied by Scally grappling heroically with his guitar and effects pedals – the results’re spectacular. “10 Mile Stereo,” “Myth,” “Wishes” – they all sport these bristling bridges. And since the music’s mid-tempo or slower, and since Legrand’s lyric lines are usually under nine syllables long, she holds more notes than a treasury department. Great breath control.

The sound was awfully good, sculpted and thick. Scally eschews chords for single-note lines, providing the brightness and contrast to Legrand’s drones. His searing solo in “On The Sea” was gorgeously, eye-wateringly clear, bringing ‘round one of those mid-song audience cheers. I’ve since revisited the recorded version with fresh appreciation, but at Kool Haus it sounded better: a mighty, MBV-esque blur. Franz’s percussion splashed and flashed all night long – he had some crazy long reverb on those cymbals, man – a sensible complement to the overall mix.

A few thoughts on “Lazuli.” Whatta choon. Scally recounted a cute story about finding the “Lazuli” keyboard at Paul’s Boutique in Kensington market. The Bloom version leaves nothing to be desired, but still – to paraphrase Bryan Ferry – sometimes you can beat perfection in concert. I’m not sure Beach House did – the dirty synth arpeggio was mixed too low at the outset and the staggered, three-part vocal round in the outro is hard for Legrand and Scally to replicate alone onstage – but, holy cats, is it a fine piece of architecture. The “ha ha, ha ha ha ha” refrain sounds like a first kiss. The chorus sounds like a second one. A Scally bridge, in elegantly curled notes, offers a little breathing room before the closing vocal round, which has the good sense to run on for two dizzyingly lovely minutes. Last night, post-round, as “Lazuli” downshifted to a most satisfying conclusion, someone beside me said, “Holy shit.” Which is what you say when something jaw-droppingly great happens. Beach House are jaw-droppingly great right now. Miss ‘em at your peril.

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