When Beach House played Portland last year during Music Fest Northwest, I opted to see Frank Black instead. Why? Well, the band’s self-titled debut and sophomore effort Devotion are both really great albums, but something about seeing the Baltimore group in a late night slot after a weekend of one show after another felt a little soporific.
Third album Teen Dream is an evolutionary step beyond the first two albums, however, and definitely one of the top records of 2010. Based on the sold-out-for-weeks show at Portland’s Doug Fir, I am not the only one who felt that way.
Some may complain that seeing Beach House in concert hews a little too close to just listening to the CD. True, singer Victoria Legrand did not step out from behind her keyboard and guitarist Alex Scally sat quietly stage right while tour drummer Daniel Franz competed with drum machine beats. The band’s music is definitely better suited for a seated venue, but with a setlist that heavily favored Teen Dream, I can guarantee I will never see Beach House in a venue as small as the Doug Fir ever again.
The concert kicked off with “Walk in a Park.” Surrounded by sequenced star piñatas that floated above the band like personal disco balls, Legrand’s swelling keyboards and rich, sometimes gruff voice filled the club. Her long hair framed her face in shadows, adding to the band’s mysterious nature. Everything began alluring and seductive, the band drawing the audience into its web. Next came “Lover of Mine,” which, like “Walk” sounded much more robust in the live setting.
While most of the set concentrated on the new album, chestnuts like “Gila” and “Heart of Chambers” appeared like surprise respites. But as the set wore on, the audience became distracted by the bar and chatter proliferated from the back of the club forward. Not to beat a dead horse, but that bullshit wouldn’t be happening in a seated venue most likely.
Legrand and Scally spoke very little between songs, pausing once to shout out Portland’s famous Stumptown coffee or asking about our “juju.” But the music more than spoke for itself. “Silver Soul” came off slower, dreamier and even bolder than its album counterpart. But the live performance only bolstered how strong the new songs really are. “Zebra” sounded appropriately muscular while first set closer “Take Care” proved both tender and inspirational. Even the fidgety crowd quieted down for that one.
“Thanks for asking use back,” Legrand quipped as the band re-took the stage moments later for the encore. “We have two Yanni covers.”
Unfortunately, the Saturday night crowd had little patience for “Real Love” and the chatter from the rear almost drowned out the affectionate, delicate song. But for finale “10 Mile Stereo,” the band killed it, not only shutting up but covering up all those who lost interest. Although the conditions weren’t right, Beach House still prevailed with a great show. I look forward to seeing them play a theater next time.
(Photos: Gretchen Robinette)