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Beach House’s Balancing Act

February 24th, 2011

Beach House – Webster Hall – February 23, 2011

Beach House - Webster Hall - February 23, 2011
Beach House took the Webster Hall stage last night to massive cheers. Victoria Legrand thanked the crowd and mentioned how much it felt like the venue had changed from just a year earlier: “We’re all getting older. But enough talk … let’s get to the emotion.” The stage was as grandiose as the atmospheric sounds that came from the trio. Behind the band, three pyramids, lit from within, silhouetted guitarist Alex Scally, who, head down, bounced off his stool, driving the melodies. Legrand, wearing an oversize shoulder-padded pastel suit jacket, towered front and center behind a simple set of keyboards. Wrapped up in the moment, she’d periodically swing her hair while pounding the keys. Rounding out the group, drummer Daniel Franz, adding to the solid foundation with tambourine, shaker, kick and snare, has recently joined Beach House on tour.

It’s a balancing act of restraint for a show filled almost entirely with emotional ballads that are slowed down to the breaking point. It’s a testament to Beach House’s songwriting and simplicity that they hold the audience completely absorbed for the hour plus. There’s nothing extraneous or excessive to distract from the moody fog that never lifts. The huge sound doesn’t seem possible from these three tiny figures, and the spellbinding haze is only broken by waves of applause.

Hardly speaking between tracks, mostly off their latest, Teen Dream, the trio didn’t want to break the trance. Across their three albums Beach House has consistently worked in the dreamy, shoegaze tradition of swirled, layered, minimal instrumentation, with just enough rhythm to showcase the incredible talent of Legrand’s vocals. She tests her dynamics’ limits from ghostly quiet whispers to shattering cymbal-crashing crescendos in an almost Stevie Nicks-style raspy, lower-register sultry vocal. But ultimately that’s an unfair comparison because she truly sounds like no one else. —Jason Dean

(Beach House’s show on Friday at Webster Hall is sold out.)

Photos by Charles Steinberg