Over the past few years I’ve developed complicated feelings about the Sup Pop band Beach House, which I find especially ironic given that their music is so uncomplicated. For the longest time I couldn’t decide whether I found the music boring or brilliant, and for some reason I felt that it must be one or the other, with no other options in between.
This indecision continued through the first few songs of Beach House’s set at First Avenue last night, too, as the band started off with a tepid rendition of “Wild” off this year’s Bloom, a few white spotlights casting giant shadows across the dark stage. Victoria Legrand’s voice was immediately striking, and she worked with the band — which includes Alex Scally on guitar and Daniel Franz on drums — to create a beautiful, continuous swath of warm sound. But for some reason it all felt quite distant and my mind wandered; I found myself wondering if I’d be able to stay engaged for the whole performance.
As the set progressed, however, the band continued to expand their sound and extended their presence out in the room, and by the time they reached the halfway point of their 90-minute performance it became clear that they were slowly, dramatically building one massive crescendo that would carry us through to the end.
Beach House mixed material from Bloom, their breakout album Teen Dream, and earlier works, and the crowd stood stoically and patiently, waiting for each new song to unfold. At first I was skeptical about seeing such a cerebral band in a sold-out, standing-room-only setting like the Mainroom, but grew to appreciate the fact that they were holding so many clubgoers so rapt. What started as sparse stage lighting grew along with the music into a wash of colors and then incorporated a backdrop of four massive, striped fans, which further spiked and vascillated the light out over the room, and by the set’s midway point many seemed as if they’d been lulled into a trance by the sights and sounds.
It wasn’t until 11 songs into the set that Legrand finally took some time to address the room, and the audience visibly swooned as she gushed about her love of Minneapolis. “There’s just something about this place. It’s a magical place,” she said. “This might be the last time we play ever, you never know. You can’t take anything for granted in life. We just want you to know this is very special.”
After that lovefest it was all hits, as the band continued their righteous build into their most recent single, “Myth,” a song that poignantly showcased Legrand’s androgynous, wide-ranging voice (there was a time when I thought Beach House was led by two singers, one male and one female, and watching her switch between tenor and alto so proficiently was one of the highlights of the performance). The crowd cheered loudly and steadily as the band filed off stage, and with little hesitation they returned for a monstrous encore that crashed into a strobe-lit climax with the grand “10 Mile Stereo.”
It was a glorious release, and it erased any hesitations I had about embracing the band; even at their most abstract the band is skilled at conjuring specific emotions and colors, and last night’s performance presented them as masters of the craft.