I still remember the first time I saw Beach House. It was by accident, or at least not on purpose. Almost five years ago to this day, with a still slightly undercooked taste in music, I walked into the St. Augustine Amphitheatre (several hours too early, which is what you do when you’re underage at a show, I guess) with a couple of friends, ready to see Vampire Weekend play songs from their newest album at the time, Contra. Beach House was a band whose name I had been familiar with, but whose music had initially escaped me, for reasons that I can not recall with certainty. By the time they had taken the stage, the sun was starting to recede over the outdoor venue, an ideal natural adjustment for their luminescent pyramid-adorned backdrop to make its presence known against the foreground of the group’s brand of smoky dream pop. Or maybe shadowy is the better term? For much of the beginning of their set, it was hard to make out who exactly was on vocal duties in this band, and even more challenging to make out any faces, to the point that I left the amphitheatre stunned, thinking “wow, that guy has an incredible voice.”
Fast forward half a decade. Beach House has long since become one of my favorite bands, a musical cornerstone of this period of my early-to-mid 20s. I will forever fondly remember spending the better part of these years using the songs from Teen Dream and Bloom disproportionately (when compared to most other music), both for daily mood setting and for the alleviation of various comedowns. I featured them heavily (possibly too heavily) on playlists during my college radio days and was even swayed to attend my first Bonnaroo in 2013, a decision that eventually led to me moving to Nashville. Maybe most importantly, I found out that the lead singer of the band is not a male.
Fast forward to last night. Beach House’s fourth show in Nashville (their graduation from The Basement to Mercy Lounge to Marathon Music Works to The Ryman is about as indicative of their growth in pop culture ubiquity over five albums as one could possibly script out for them) was a well-attended, yet slightly awkward, affair. The evening, opened by the impossibly delicate folk singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt, was unlike any that I had experienced in the five performances of theirs that I had witnessed prior. Primarily, none of those previous performances had encouraged the crowd to sit, with venues ranging from the aforementioned St. Augustine Amphitheatre to This Tent at Bonnaroo to Minglewood Hall in Memphis all providing more open floor than church pews. Ultimately, this drove a bit of a wedge into the performance, the crowd firmly planted through the first quarter of the set before lead vocalist Victoria Legrand assured the hundreds in attendance that no one would be offended if they decided to stand. In theory, this was a correct statement. In reality, I watched as a handful of overzealous patrons were sent back to the seats that they had vacated several rows back, their decisions to oblige quashed nearly immediately by Ryman security. I was personally told to stop standing in the aisle, my best effort to make a mental compromise with my desire to not sit down while also not blocking the view of those behind me.
The compromise became more difficult as the night went on, with the band delivering what was possibly the best setlist that I had seen them perform to date. Kicking off with “Levitation”, the opening track to their most recent record Depression Cherry, the four-piece (consisting of Legrand, musical partner Alex Scally, bassist Skye Skjelset and drummer Graham Hill) settled into a groove that was nearly seamless, and consistently engaging. Banter was few and far between, that extra time replaced with longtime fan favorites from what is becoming a very deep catalog as the years pass. While the band culled from will eternally be their crowning achievement, 2010’s flawless Teen Dream (“Walk In The Park”, “Silver Soul”, “10 Mile Stereo”), these familiar numbers were mostly wedged against a heavy selection of pensive yet enthusiastic numbers from their biggest commercial success, 2012’s Bloom: “The Hours” (a personal favorite), “Wishes”, “Myth” and even the torch song “On The Sea” all made appearances in the Mother Church.
Surprisingly, though the band did perform six of the nine tracks that make up Depression Cherry, they were spaced out adeptly, in a manner that allowed for the ever-present “I haven’t really listened to the new album” types the chance to attain a fresh perspective on the songs. The Motown-indebted “PPP”, in particular, came off unsustainably powerful, to the point that it made myself and others that I spoke to after the show wondering why it hadn’t been recorded to incorporate Legrand’s truly staggering live vocal runs. “Space Song”, another recorded Depression Cherry highlight, sounded great enough without the band coalescing to reach for something greater, tacking on a somewhat jammy extended coda that gave the track some much needed room to breathe, room that doesn’t exist on the final product. I feel privileged to have had the chance to travel to Memphis earlier in the week, where they played “Bluebird” live for the first time, an inaugural dispatch that took all of six days to become a calling card. Brought in by X-Files reminiscent synths and an especially dusky vocal turn from Legrand, “Bluebird” offers the evocative nugget that “scenes change, before they are over.”
That mantra, I suppose, brings me to a proper finale here. As I mentioned earlier, the first time I ever even heard this band’s music was when they were opening for another band who I was much more familiar with. That band, despite releasing one of the best records I’ve heard in many years (seriously, go back and listen to Modern Vampires of the City), has not and will never reach me in the same way that their opener did, and has. That scene, to me, changed and gave way to a new one.
I’d like to think that there’s a certain part of any listener that they sell off to true, unadulterated fandom – not the kind that makes you want to say that you simply like a record, but instead the kind that makes you not think for a second about hopping in a car and driving.. Beach House, for me, will forever be one of those bands that gives way to a certain and priceless sense of nostalgia, one that actually makes me want to remember what it felt like to be myself so long ago, while also embracing what that same person’s future might hold.
Words and Photography by Kevin Brown