Beach House review – sonic adventures against a starlit sky

The Ritz, Manchester
The Virginia duo deliver their echo-laden, Wurlitzer-whirling noise to a heaving venue in a slow-building dreampop spectacle

“This one’s going to be in near darkness,” mutters the man on the door, and Beach House emerge in so much gloom that if one of them mislaid a contact lens, there would be a health and safety incident. It’s a typically unconventional entrance from a band who are doing things their way.

As pop’s ever-baffling array of genres now ranges from skwee to (really) charred death, Baltimore’s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s music doesn’t fit comfortably into any of them. Although their six albums have been labelled dreampop and shoegaze, neither tag quite captures their blend of the Cocteau Twins, 60s folk, the gentler side of My Bloody Valentine and the Ronettes’ wind-tunnel pop.

However, transferring all this to an uncomfortably heaving venue on a wet Tuesday night proves problematic. The early numbers are marred by ragged sound, with the drums particularly sounding like cabbages landing in a soggy cardboard box. It doesn’t help that there’s no real performance. With the duo – plus a bassist and drummer – all huddled at stage rear, the Kohl-eyed, long-haired, organ-playing Legrand at least makes some concessions to the art of a frontperson, occasionally breaking her studied cool to quip “C’mon, ladies” or “I can see you dancers.”

Studied cool ... Beach House’s Victoria Legrand.
Studied cool ... Beach House’s Victoria Legrand. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/Redferns

The audience positively whoop with joy – or relief – when the stage suddenly transforms into a starlit sky, and there is finally a spectacle. Otherwise, it’s left to the music to carry the show. Thankfully, it does. Although the 16-song setlist perhaps leans a bit too heavily on summer’s Depression Cherry, the two songs from surprise, superior follow-up Thank Your Lucky Stars – the debuted, ethereal All Your Yeahs, and slow-building, yearning One Thing – are delightful.

In a decade together, the duo have only really changed musical pace from slow songs to even slower songs, but within their Wurlitzer-whirling noise there is drama and hymnal songs about transience, escape, love and death. Silver Soul and 10 Mile Stereo are sonic adventures to get thoroughly lost in. There are startling moments whenever Legrand’s echo-laden voice suddenly rises from a whisper to a scream, and by the penultimate, spacey Saltwater, she is even grinning and flailing her hair like a heavy rocker. It’s a wonderfully incongruous moment, containing the sort of thrilling passion and showmanship that needs to make it into Beach House shows more often.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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