SOS Fest: Beach House’s sublime sensory experience

Beach House at SOS Fest 2016. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman

Beach House at SOS Fest 2016. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman

Beach House’s dreamy atmospherics and midtempo meditations might never make the cut on anyone’s Saturday night turn up playlist, but watching them unspool their richly textured melodies into the country air on a crisp November night was divine.

A thick crowd clustered around the front of the big stage where the Baltimore electro duo (joined live by a pair of supporting musicians on drums and electronics) performed. On the outskirts of the field couples swaying to the music clung to each other for warmth. A man danced with a set of LED poi balls, glowing orbs on a string that traced circles in the air. A mother and her young daughter laid on a blanket, heads together sharing stories, creating a memory.

On albums, Beach House songs tend to drift into each other, it’s easy background music. When they perform live, the emotional urgency of the music moves to the forefront. Opening with the older cut “Wild” then seguing into “PPP” off one of last year’s two excellent releases “Depression Cherry,” swells of sound, washed over the crowd in a cathartic release.

Alex Scally (guitar) and Victoria LeGrand (vocals and keys) do not put their personalities at the center of their live performances. They spent most of their set at Sound on Sound Festival backlit, their faces shrouded by shadows and, in LeGrand’s case, a curtain of hair. Banter was minimal and largely oblique.

Which makes sense really, as Beach House’s music seems to emerge from a shadowy place, a cauldron of turbulent emotion that conjures cinematic sound. LeGrand coaxes a broad range of color out of her voice from a husky rasp to a soulful outcry. She builds tension through contrasts, her fingers weaving arpeggiated patterns on the keys while she allows her voice to move slow, caressing the melodies. Scally’s expressive guitar work underscores the drama of their soundscapes.

Occasionally the band got a bit dancey, but most of the set, which included several songs from “Depression Cherry” and a slew of older tracks, moved at a slow pace. Until the end, when the band kicked up the strobes and built the set to a climax with an epic pulsing take on the old track “10 Mile Stereo.”

Sure, we weren’t sweating it out, but as a sensory experience, it was simply sublime.


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