Monday, June 13, 2022

Beach House / White Flowers - Live 2022.06.08 Columbiahalle, Berlin, Germany

Beach House released their latest album, Once Twice Melody, in four parts over the end of 2021 into 2022. It’s a logical successor to 7 (2018), but more varied, and with a few surprises like (gasp) acoustic guitar! It’s as beautiful as any of their albums, almost as good as their best, and full of instant classics. They’ve clearly figured out a vibe that works, and they’re not going to give that up anytime soon. They don’t need to. Anyway, if I recall correctly, this show was announced at the same time as the first part was released in November last year. Despite my intense covid anxiety at the time, I bought a ticket, hoping for a better global health situation by the time the show came around. Indeed, things are a little better, and obviously this wasn’t my first major concert of the season. Still, it was my first for which I bought the ticket during the pandemic, as opposed to merely being rescheduled from 2020. Does that matter? Probably not.

The show started with White Flowers, a duo that is ripping off Beach House so hard that I’m almost surprised that they tolerate it. I guess imitation is flattery? I tried to study them closely to discern what made them unique. Certainly the format of an ethereal, waify keyboardist/singer with a seemingly shy guitarist looked familiar. But the guitar was in a different style, more like the spacier, upper “lead” bits of the Chameleons. However, unlike them, they lacked the more grounded lower part to counterbalance that. Instead, they just relied on synthesized drums and bass, which sucked away some of their energy and left nothing to really drive the rhythm live. Their sound was pleasant and warm, but a bit too hazy and vague for me to grasp.

Beach House certainly took their time coming out, and the crowd was impatient and rowdier than I’d expected. The audience had completely ignored the opener and talked straight through their set, but thankfully settled down a notch for the headliner. Just like their last tour, or at least consistent with the show they played in Berlin in 2018, Beach House came out as a three-piece. Vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist/bassist/backing vocalist Alex Scally were joined once again by James Barone on drums, but no one else on supporting keyboards, unlike their 2016 appearances that I saw. I initially thought that they too were relying on samples to fill the missing space, but the more I watched, the more I realized that a lot of their parts were really carefully looped, and Alex was providing most of the low-end with bass pedals! I’m sure there were still some samples (a few songs are built on drum machines, and I caught Victoria singing a lower harmony in part of “Myth” while the regular melody was clearly played back from tape), but it felt quite vibrant and live. The live drumming makes a huge difference, and the bass pedals do, too. Honestly, it’s quite impressive to watch Alex play guitar while simultaneously trying to get his feet in the right spots. He did occasionally fumble or play slight variations (whether by intention or not), which only endeared the experience to me more.

They played several songs from the new album (but still less than half of it!) and a decent mix of songs from their back catalog, although nothing from the first two albums nor B-Sides and Rarities (2017). I was just slightly disappointed that they skipped some of my personal favorites, particularly “Take Care”, which has been played on most nights of the tour, but it’s hard to complain with the excellent choices that they did offer. There wasn’t a bad song in the bunch. That said, I was amused to note that they almost exclusively picked their songs with the most plays on Spotify. (I had no idea that “Space Song” was so wildly popular! What TV show or movie soundtrack did it end up on!?) I don’t blame them for giving fans what they want, but I would’ve enjoyed some more risks. Maybe 2022 just isn’t the year for that kind of risk.

“Space Song” ended up being a real highlight of the night. It was simply beautiful, and the audience seemed transfixed and unusually peaceful for the moment. I’m fairly certain that Victoria was live-looping her vocals, which was really well done. They nailed it. “Pink Funeral” was an outlier due to Alex taking a rare solo, as in, not just a lead part, but rather a big, bold guitar solo. It wasn’t exactly blazing or aggressive, but rather a touch showier and more dynamic than normal while still managing to fit the mood. “Myth” was of course a standout, but it was a bit dampened when they had to stop the song to get help for someone who had passed out. They restarted it from the top, but it was hard to jump back into the feeling. “Modern Love Stories” was another solid new song, but I was surprised that Alex didn’t have an acoustic guitar for the coda. It seemed like he used an acoustic simulator on his guitar and looped it, but it may have been sampled after all.

Musically, Beach House had an excellent night. The mix was great and they played well. Although it can be difficult to distinguish which song came from which album without a good deal of listening experience, and there’s still something special about some of the classics, the new songs fit in right alongside the old. The songs from 7 are already classics and fan favorites, so the same fate will likely be afforded to the best of this bunch. I’m surprised they didn’t play even more of the new ones, especially considering how many there are. I would’ve particularly loved to see the fully-charged electropop of “Masquerade”! Visually, the band were their usual quiet selves with anti-rockist, nocturnal lighting. They did speak to us and apologize for the oppressive humidity of the venue, but they’ve never done much posturing. The real drag of the night was the crowd. It was weirdly hyped and aggressive. I had such a rough experience that I think I’ll dedicate a separate post just to that topic.

Here is Beach House’s setlist:
01. Once Twice Melody
02. Silver Soul
03. Dark Spring
04. Pink Funeral
05. PPP
06. Superstar
07. Levitation
08. Lazuli
09. New Romance
10. Myth
11. Black Car
12. Only You Know
13. Lemon Glow
14. Space Song
15. Modern Love Stories

16. Over and Over

Beach House: A-
White Flowers: B-
Once Twice Melody: A-

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

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