Concert Review: Beach House at The Englert Theater – Iowa City, IA – August 14, 2016

Published by JB on August 16, 2016

Sonic beauty meets dream pop bliss

You can’t walk around the Englert Theater for more than a minute without running into a sign that says “No smoking.  It sets off the alarms and we end the show.  No refunds.”   Three songs into the Beach House set and you already know what happens.   The fire alarms start to flash (via several silent strobe lights).   However, this time it was the band’s guilty smoke machine doing the dirty deed.   Fifteen minutes into the show and Beach House is forced to do what they really don’t like to do; improvise and talk to the crowd.   Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally stumble through some ad libs and five minutes later the show resumes – with the fire alarm strobes still flickering at a mad pace.  Legrand, the mysterious and shrouded lead singer even takes it a step further, “For those of you wanting to take pictures with flash, here’s your chance, because no one will be able to tell it was you”.

The show itself was an occasional blast of My Bloody Valentine-like sonic beauty mixed with the ethereal Cocteau Twins-like dream pop mastery that Beach House has become a staple of.   Legrand and Scally are indeed, one of the greatest duos of this decade.  The three Beach House albums in the past four years (including two full length albums released separately, a few months apart in 2015) will go down as some of the cornerstones of dream pop over the past 25 years.   They are hauntingly perfect.

Seeing them live and you also absorb the building, anthemic beauty of their light show.   The first fifteen minutes are 95% pure darkness except for an occasional, flickering strobe (being a photographer this was like shooting bats flying into a black hole to chase a black cat).   But by the middle of the show there’s enough light to see Legrand’s face (and unlike other concerts where it’s a light orgy from the opening moment), this was a BIG DEAL, and the crowd was thrilled (we could see her face!!).   Moments later there was more building up of the light show as the songs got louder with their patient but orgasmic endings.  Eventually by the show’s final set of songs the light show is a thing of pink and red pageantry; complementing the euphoric bliss that Beach House delivered over a career-spanning setlist of popular and the obscure.

I rated Beach House’s two albums (Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars) as the best albums of 2015.   A sold out show on the campus of the University of Iowa a full week before classes show the passion that they’ve built with their college fan base.   Fans were on the rail, pressed up against each other (ignoring their seats) 30 minutes before Legrand and guitarist Scally touched the stage.   Arms were swaying, heads were bobbing.

Two things that stuck out:

‘Elegy to the Void’ may have been the evening highlight with its pulsating crescendo (and the only track featuring Legrand on guitar) but since the song is so far removed from most of the Beach House catalog the beginning of the song seemed abrupt and out of place in the middle of the show.

The encore ‘Days of Candy’ was a shocker.  Widely viewed as the weakest of the Depression Cherry tracks it fulfilled its quirky grace as the song’s final crescendo exemplified the combination of beautiful chaos and exquisit bliss that defines Beach House’s indelible sound.

Setlist:

Levitation
Wild
PPP
Space Song
Master Of None
10 Mile Stereo
Take Care
Turtle Island
Rough Song
Wishes
Elegy to the Void
Myth
Sparks

Encore:  Days of Candy

 

 

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