Dream pop this, dream pop that, dream pop down the shops and get me a sachet of space dust will you? There’s so many genres and categorisations in music these days, you’d need a half decent diploma in cartography to map out the musical landscape. But Beach House ARE definitely a pop band of a dreamy head-in-the-clouds nature, even though those heads occasionally contemplatively nod in the direction of the shoe. Theirs is a music that was built for bedrooms, headphones, glorious self-pity and cheap red wine.
They’re back in Belfast’s Mandela Hall – and it’ll most likely be their last appearance there. The university to which it’s long been attached, in the collegiate spirit of neo-liberal avarice, appears to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s flogging the place to god knows who to be transformed into god knows what. But that’s bile best reserved for another collection of words. It’s a crying shame all the same – made all the more shameful when one stands here on Saturday night, and is reminded that it’s one of the best mid-sized venues in a city with a serious dearth of great of any-kind-of-venues. So much for “Belfast city of music”.
Now, a few words about the support – the young chap whose name escapes. I wrote it down on the back of a cigarette paper, which I then smoked. And I’m not even a smoker. (Dustin Wong – ed.) His delicately picked guitar repetitions, intricate overlays, loops and lovely shrieking nonsense are marvellous. Bit like a west coast East India Youth, only probably not. The venue is still not entirely full when he is visibly overwhelmed by an applause so rapturous, he almost turns around to check if Beach House have arrived on stage early. They haven’t. They continue to not arrive on stage early until they’re near testing the realms of fashionably late. But good things come to she who waits, and sure enough Victoria, Alex and “the guys” soon saunter on, urgency losing out to insouciance. It wouldn’t happen on a scrabble board I tell you…
“I love you!” a fellow involuntarily splutters on their first sighting of the band, but the drummer can’t hear him.
As the lights dim, the austere backdrop of spacey curtains – remarkably like the ones in my old living room – have the cold cyber-glisten of knitted silverfish. The band launch (or should that be ease?) into ‘Levitation’, the pretty, slowly unfolding opening track of Thank Your Lucky Stars – the better of the two half-decent albums they casually tossed out this year.
‘Walk in the Park’ from the marvel that is Teen Dream is remarkably affecting live, and has grown men and women doing what the Germans might call badweepysingingalong.
Victoria Legrand stands front and centre, utterly inscrutable, save for the lovely words tumbling from her mouth all over our shoulders. She’s obviously something of a hipster forces sweetheart, but her chunky keyboard, lack of “banter” and face-concealing fringe offer ample protection from the frontwoman and three blokes cliché. That said, her fine red slacks (must get me a pair) are often the only slash of colour in an evening framed in a frequently monochrome set.
It’s unsurprising that there’s not much in the way of “banter” with Beach House. What a word. Who wants banter anyway? Peter Capaldi’s ace Doctor Who doesn’t for one. But when Victoria does address us, I, like the anti-Zelig I’ve always been, am away, belatedly handing my coat in at the cloakroom. I can’t get my sozzled compadre to relay as he’s too “in the moment”.
Later, there is an exhortation by Victoria for us all to get whiskey at the bar, although it’s unclear if we have to give her name to get one. Mostly though, it is the, ahem, music that does the talking.
‘One Thing’ from Thank Your Lucky Stars is luscious, lugubrious and may single-handedly start the “nu-shu-gaze” movement. Or not – apologies to coiners of movements in music mags everywhere.
‘Zebra’ and ‘Space Song’ chime in the midnight dark of the Mandela Hall. ‘The Traveller’ is a whiter shade of white. The set, unsurprisingly, is mostly cultivated from the new batch of releases this year. That’s not to say it’s ever bad. Even at their least, Beach House offer up a rich murk of minor chord mumbled melancholy with big drums and the odd sweeping chorus. But there is a point where despite all the fine playing and the delicate shades of grey atmosphere, events descend into slight torpor, but an elegant torpor at least.
A cracking, shivering ‘Myth’ revives flagging energies (my “hit and myth” gag falls on deaf / and or disgusted ears about me). Wonderfully, people dance like they’ve forgotten they’re not in their kitchen and even an almost excitable Victoria veers dangerously near to “the banter”. “Fucking guitar hero” she exclaims of the fucking excellent support act whose name STILL escapes me (Pffft, DUSTIN WONG – ed.). She suddenly remembers that she’s in Beach House and adds, “That’s all I’m gonna say – it’s Saturday night!”
Is the encore the ultimate manifestation of band banter? There’s the time honoured clichés of the exchange between band and audience. The hollers of “one more song”, met with a “what us?” surprise on the bands indecently hasty return to the stage.
Listen, we’ve been through this before guys – Beach House don’t do banter. When they slink off stage with a stylish indifference, they don’t bound back on. There is clapping, cheering, more clapping, a dozen hurled “I love you”s which the drummer presumably still can’t hear. Then, after what feels like eons, Beach House do return. It’s with the collective air of somebody who’s coming back because they dropped their keys. They play ’10 Mile Stereo’. It might be the best performance of the evening, and the audience duly responds. Then Beach House leave The Mandela Hall for good. I’ll miss them and many others in this space, but I won’t miss the banter.
Beach House photographed for State by Leah Carroll