Great bands have the ability to take their audience on a journey every time they perform and that’s exactly what Beach House managed to do at their eagerly-awaited Perth Festival appearance. On the generous Chevron Gardens stage at Elizabeth Quay, the Baltimore duo soared close to sonic perfection, transporting the crowd to their mysterious, dreamlike world via waves of gorgeous immersive sound and spellbinding songs.
The devil lives in the details and all the thought and attention that Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House have applied to their live show – and art in general – over the course of a rewarding seven album career has seen them rightfully advance from being hailed as underground cult sensations to genuine contenders.
Ambling on stage bang on the stroke of 9pm as advertised – punctuality is most certainly a virtue, even in the rock world – to a super enthusiastic hero’s welcome, the band proceeded to blow minds and change perceptions over the course of an unforgettable 16-song visual and sonic masterclass. From the incredible stage projection, the eye catching light design, the impeccable sound to the band’s flawless performance, everything was simply out of this world.
Opening the show on the night were Perth poppers Mosquito Coast who trade in an accessible indie sound pitched somewhere between 80s new romantic and contemporary dream pop. Playing a selection of songs from their soon-to-be-released debut album Kisses, recorded in New York City by French producer Nicolas Vernhes who’s worked with the likes of The War on Drugs, Animal Collective and Deerhunter, the band’s enjoyable performance caught the attention of the early arrivers and held it from start to finish.
Led by the core duo of singer/guitarist Naomi Robinson and keyboardist/vocalist Conor Barton, Mosquito Coast were quite the sight and sound to behold. Uniformly dressed in the kind of stylish white 80s fashion last seen on icon from that decade David Sylvian in his Japan heyday, the band made light of their big Perth Festival opening slot by playing with an assurance and confidence far beyond their years. Set highlights Skipping Girl and new single Sweet Talkin sparked energy into the crowd and showed just how far Mosquito Coast have developed since winning Triple J’s Unearthed High competition as 17-year olds back in 2015. As opening sets go, theirs was definitely a memorable one.
As good as Mosquito Coast were on the night, Beach House were just a different class come showtime. Performing live as a well-honed trio with superb drummer James Barone at the helm, Beach House drew from old and new material for their first Perth live gig since their Laneway Festival 2016 appearance in Fremantle. Although songs from the band’s latest album 7 dominated proceedings, there was still enough choice material from the band’s back catalogue to appease the diehards. Through the handy set creator widget on their website, gig goers were even able to choose tracks that they wanted to hear at the show, which is a cool way of ensuring that everyone goes home happy.
Levitation, the standout tracks on the band’s 2015 album Depression Cherry, opened in the show in atmospheric fashion with the band appearing as mysterious silhouettes amidst hazy swirls of blue fog. Just droning vintage organ and vocalist and keyboardist Victoria Legrand’s cut glass, slightly hesitant vocals alone at first before the rest of the band come in and slowly build the song into a gorgeous sonic cathedral reminiscent of Loveless era My Bloody Valentine. What a way to set the tone for the rest of the evening to come.
From the back catalogue, the band pulled out fan favourites including Lazuli and New Year – selected by local fans as one one of the songs they wanted to hear the most via the band’s website – from 2012’s Bloom and Teen Dream tracks Walk In The Park and 10 Mile Stereo from 2010. Of the back catalogue tracks performed, the other Depression Cherry offerings of Sparks, PPP and Space Song sounded especially majestic and wistful, with the latter’s ethereal drone proving especially popular among the crowd.
An important component of the Beach House’s kick ass live show is their incredible visuals. Operating as dreamlike shadow figures saturated in shades of purple, blue and blood red for most of the show, projected behind them were an assortment of trippy visuals – everything from 60s pop art designs, colourful abstract blurred images and twinkling stars in the night sky that blinked in sequence to the music. Then there were extreme live close ups of Victoria and Alex’s hands from Gopros mounted on their instruments and on stage during Space Song. Combined with the band’s hypnotic music and dramatic light design – all blinding strobes and cinematic stage lighting – the effect is totally mind blowing, verging on sensory overload, and a definite cut above your usual rock concert stage production.
Of the seven songs played from 7 – see what they did there – album opener Dark Spring really stood out, breaking the audience out of its hallucinatory trance through dollops of shuddering sub synth bass – for a band without a bass player, Beach House sure has plenty of low frequencies embedded in their sound to compensate – and ghostly, reverb-laden distorted guitar. The sight of Legrand headbanging behind her keyboard, Barone flailing away at his kit with metronomic precision like a skin beater straight from the drumming genie and guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally hunched over his guitar in full immersion was truly awesome to behold.
Other standout moments? The enchanted drone waltz of PPP, where Legrand invoked Julee Cruise and Phil Spector girl groups and a meditative Girl Of The Year which saw Alex’s strapping on a bass guitar to add even more doomy low end to the mix. Not forgetting the towering rendition of Black Car which gleamed majestically like a glass skyscraper at sundown or the anthemic set closer Lemon Glow which topped even the wonderful recorded version for sheer power and intensity.
“See you in the future,” said Legrand waving as she walked off the stage after the blistering rendition of 7 standout Dive drew to its sudden ecstatic conclusion and that was it. Just one glorious song for the encore, perfectly executed and then it was all over. After that kind of scintillating performance, the future can’t come too soon. The greatest dream pop band in history? On this kind of form, who can deny them their right place at the top of the class? Magnificent, majestic and mind blowing.
Photos by Linda Dunjey