Beach House benefit from MFA
A review of Beach House and Tickly Feathers at the Museum of Fine Arts on December 12
The Museum of Fine Arts, as it turns out, is a pretty cool place to check out a concert: sure, there’s no booze, the auditorium is about half the size of my high school, and the only visual flare came from a projection screen behind the performers, but what it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in creating a quiet and intimate concert-going experience for the listener, thus it is the sort of venue perfect for a band like Beach House.
The Baltimore duo (with a live drummer), along with opener Tickley Feathers, brought their dreamy soundscapes back to Boston for an evening of ambience and calming vocals, and the more academic setting only helped the band pull off what would be a satisfying and enjoyable performance.
“We’ve got you right where we want you,” quipped guitarist Alex Scally as they took the stage, “seated and sober.” The band then opened up the set with “You Came To Me”, off their new album, Devotion. The song demonstrated what is quintessential to Beach House’s sound: synthesized layers of sound pulsed out of Victoria Legrand’s keyboard while her distinct and lovely voice wove in and out of them. Scally’s slide guitar melted up and down, harmonizing at the perfect moments and generally adding a lot to the mix. The drums plodded along slowly, soft mallets dampening and warming the sound further. Surprisingly very little was lost in transitioning from studio to live – the dense walls of sound still pervaded, and Legrand’s vocals were strong against everything else going on in the music. From their self-titled debut album, “Master of None” was another highlight of the evening, Scally’s slide guitar making its way to the forefront and sounding fantastic.
Throughout the evening, a mysterious projectionist under the moniker of Black Moth provided imagery to accompany the sounds coming from on-stage. Black Moth seems to really enjoy candles, and throughout the evening the audience would enjoy watching flickering images of lit candles bouncing up and down on the screen behind the performers. Other masses of visualization came up, but candles were definitely the primary theme of the night. It was all very appropriate, though, and quietly added to the performance.
While the two men were pretty quiet most of the evening, Legrand provided some great color commentary in between songs. For the most part she just made brief jokes about one thing or another, though on occasion little gems like “Sometimes hate is stronger than art” would let slip. It was peculiar, to say the least, but her compositions and singing are strong enough that you couldn’t really fault her for a few bizarre comments here and there.
The band’s encore, after having been off stage for literally fifteen seconds, included “Apple Orchard”, one of Beach House’s more popular songs, which just continued the trend of layered synth patches and calming slide guitar. They used their final song to “guinea pig” a new song on the audience, which is always a treat to hear a band do. The new song put Legrand on a tom-tom covered with a red flannel to dampen it a bit. Their new song was darker and more forward-driven than most of the band’s current catalogue, though unfortunately a name was not divulged at the time. It makes the prospect of a future release look really good, though.
Opener Tickley Feather did a perfect job establishing the mood of the evening: a trio from New York, they treated the crowd to what more or less amounted to an incredibly shoegaze-y Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. The synth patches sounded pretty stock, but they put together some pretty interesting constructions. Two men sat down on keyboards of varying size while the leader singer stood, messing with drum machines and dials when she wasn’t singing into a microphone that added a ton of reverb and gave her voice a faraway quality that made interacting with the audience in between songs difficult. They were an enjoyable group, nonetheless.
It was nice to hear a pair of bands doing something fairly different in the realm of pop music. Both Beach House and Tickley Feather have distinct and unique sounds that really push the boundaries of what pop music can become. They add a certain degree of artistic merit to a genre that is generally defined exactly by a lack of that merit. It wasn’t too much of a surprise that they ended up performing at the MFA, which probably has a penchant for the more avant-garde or somewhat different musicians out there. Beach House did a great job with the peculiar performing area, and, really, a more traditional venue would have likely hurt the show. They are a band that demands to be listened to closely, and thankfully we were able to do just that in our tiny auditorium.