Over seven studio albums, Beach House, the Baltimore-based duo of guitarist Alex Scally and vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand, has damn near perfected its dream-pop soundscapes to the point that they can regularly transport — and transfix — listeners.
This was the experience last night at Beach House’s performance at the Ogden Theatre. You could look around and see them: all the fans swaying, eyes closed. And behind those eyelids, each person was traveling off to different places, distant memories, all with their own subjective yearning to connect their swirling emotions of nostalgia, bliss and regret to tangible moments in their lives, some kind of musical epiphany.
The dark, cavelike atmosphere of the Ogden heightened this haunting sensation. With a few timely exceptions when the place lit up like a quasar, the only real light source was a screen behind the band, so that Legrand, Scally and their touring drummer, James Barone, appeared as silhouettes before the crowd.
The band didn’t speak much (though Legrand couldn’t help pointing out, “It’s really hot in here…like that Nelly video.”), opting to let the music do the talking.
Unfortunately, things got off to a rough start because the sound wasn’t dialed in – both on the main speakers facing the crowd and apparently on the band's stage monitors. You could see Scally gesturing repeatedly to an audio engineer to make adjustments. But while it was a shame that the mix wasn’t quite right (muffled guitar, underwhelming drums) for approximately thirty minutes, the sound engineers eventually found their sweet spot and then bumped up the decibels by a considerable volume. This is when Beach House found its groove as well, fully unleashing its signature mix of shoegaze synthesizer, Scally’s sliding guitar work and Legrand’s deep and reverb-soaked crooning.
With the exception of a few in the crowd who would not stop talking during some of the quieter moments (seriously, why go to a concert to talk to your buddy about dirt biking?), the audience was hypnotized.
I hadn’t seen the band since 2010, during a daytime set at a music festival, but I was reminded of something I’d written on a personal music blog — back when we had those — about the band’s third album, Teen Dream. Last night, the sentiment still applied, even more so:
“Their music strives to recapture defining moments of adolescence, bringing them into focus but at the same time distorting them in a almost surreal dreamscape. I felt myself reliving experiences in high school: adventures in the city, old romances, triumphs, and failures. What Beach House has done is create [music] full of crafted contradiction, celebratory yet remorseful tales of nostalgia that produce mixed feelings of elation and wistfulness. Although we have [grown], largely independent from the trials of our youth, there is a yearning to go back to a simpler time…This is what Beach House really accomplishes — taking the emphasis away from our [day-to-day worries] and bringing back feelings from a not so distant past when we weren’t so sure about who we were. Because it is those first experiences that really stick with us.”
What I would have told myself back when I wrote that in college is that the uncertainties don’t ever go away; they're only kicked down the road or appear in different forms throughout this journey called life. There’s a reason Beach House’s music still resonates, why the group is still so relevant fourteen years into its career: Its unique sound provides a cathartic, one-two punch, first welling up our emotions, and then challenging us to connect those emotions to the particulars of our messy, complicated lives. Whether we come to any realizations during these transporting moments is besides the point; what makes a great Beach House song mesmerizing is that right before the song ends, we tend to feel like we're on the cusp of making some great breakthrough in clarity or purpose. From behind closed eyes, no matter where our mind takes us, we’ll keep coming back to hear more just so we can feel we're on the verge of a breakthrough again.