4:03 pm Jul. 24, 2012
The band Beach House has a pretty good light show.
That's a good thing, since they don’t provide a great deal else to look at onstage, which figures—the Baltimore duo’s music, lovely as it can sometimes be, is pretty sedentary, and so is making it. So they compensate with lots of lights, flashing, pulsing, advancing and retreating: purple-and-red-splotches; soft blues flooding the stage while harsh flickering bright-whites dance overhead; twinkling “stars” on the dark back curtain. It's mood lighting suited to the group’s mood music.
But at Central Park’s Summerstage on Monday night, Beach House’s light show had competition from Mother Nature.
"Were not going to let the storm win,” the duo’s singer, Victoria Legrand, announced valiantly about midway through the set, just after performing “Used to Be” and as the rain began coming down on the audience, only some of whom had brought umbrellas.
“Pardon my French,” added Legrand, “but fuck it!”
This was funny for two reasons. One, Legrand actually is French—she split her childhood between Paris and Philadelphia. And two, Mother Nature said “fuck it” right back, responding to Legrand’s taunt a moment later with a humongous lightning bolt right over the heads of the audience, who ooohed and ahhhed appreciatively.
That was about as much friction as you’re going to get at a Beach House show. The gentle-hearted young creatives that make up the dream-rock band's audience didn't seem much surprised (the skies had opened up earlier that afternoon) or disappointed by the rain, and they weren’t about to let it get in the way. The downpour even enhanced things, making Beach House’s murmurs seem all the more romantic. Couples prepared to snuggle in the twilight now had even more reason to get closer. And luckily, despite the spectacular lightning, the rain stayed manageable even for the many who hadn't brought umbrellas.
Entering through a thick cloud of dry ice, vocalist-keyboardist Legrand, guitarist-keyboardist Alex Scally, and a guest drummer sounded terrific from the get-go. My gear-head girlfriend noted her surprise at how clear the percussion came through, and from most of the way back everything else rang sharp and clear, too.
This was welcome in music that's so focused on sounding woozy and ethereal: subtlety counts for a lot. Sometimes Beach House can be negligible: listening blindly, I might have sworn that "Other People," from this year’s Bloom, was a soft-rock radio hit circa 1982, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. But most of the material stood up nicely, the main set climaxing appropriately with Bloom’s gorgeous “Myth.”
About five songs into the set, though, the weather began putting on its own show. During "Gila" (from 2008’s Devotion), the stage lights went deep red; the sky responded with at least ten quick bolts in a row, all spreading in different directions. Sorry, band, but no contest.
Legrand was gracious in response, effusively thanking the crowd for sticking it out. "Were all in it together tonight, guys," she said. A few feet in front of me, one guy caught the runoff from his umbrella in a beer cup. People get thirsty at outdoor shows.