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October 16, 2012

Beach House rides a surf of sound at the Riviera

Touring to promote the release of their new album Bloom, Baltimore-based band Beach House played a show this past Thursday at Chicago’s historic Riviera Theatre. The last time Beach House played in Chicago was at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past summer, and their show at the Riviera marked their largest headlining show in the city to date. The growing widespread popularity of the group was reflected not only by the large youth crowd on the floor level but also by a sizable number of people old enough to be parents seated in the balcony above.

After the success of Teen Dream, the 2010 breakout release that earned a score of 9.0 and the title of “Best New Music” on Pitchfork, Bloom certainly doesn’t disappoint. Guitarist Alex Scally and singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand follow up with the same ethereal scapes and strong, smoky vocals we’ve come to expect but with significantly more power and spaciousness.

Beach House’s opening band, Poor Moon, played a fitting yet less-than-energizing set. A side project of Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott (current members of folk/baroque pop band Fleet Foxes), the band seemed to struggle to differentiate themselves from Fleet Foxes’ distinct harmonic woodland sound. Despite its Seattle origins, Poor Moon sounded more California than Pacific Northwest, with twangy Vampire Weekend guitars and pop influences from The Beach Boys.

When the duo finally took the stage along with touring drummer Daniel Franz, they jumped into their set without hesitation. The buzzing synthesizers grew louder as Legrand was backlit ominously, introduced only as a silhouette standing boldly at the helm of her keyboard. Soon after, Scally carefully removed his shoes and placed them aside as he sat on a stool, revealing some quirky striped socks. The tension grew until they finally broke into “Wild,” a percussion-heavy song driven by Legrand’s whispery vocals and fantasies of young love. The song was a fitting choice since Legrand’s mane of hair defines her appearance. A sheet of speckled lights was draped behind the band, creating a starry effect that could not have more strongly reinforced the dreamy quality of their music.

Without stopping for introductions or banter, the band sailed straight into “Troublemaker” and “On The Sea.” However, after a few more songs, they took a break to have a bit of fun with the audience, performing some slam haikus about time travel and golden babies.

While some audience members were only holding out for “Myth,” the vanguard track from Bloom, which is carried by an intoxicatingly catchy and oneiric guitar riff, other fans were delighted to hear older tracks as well. The group played many favorites like “Zebra” and “Norway” from Teen Dream and even performed the echoey and keyboard-riddled “Master of None” from their surprisingly well-manicured 2006 debut.

The group was plagued by technical issues—from feedback problems to lighting mistakes—throughout the performance, including during the climax of a few songs, yet nothing seemed to faze the group’s high energy. Legrand’s vigorous hair-flipping and head-banging as well as Scally’s focused guitar virtuosity fueled the crowd’s screams. Beach House carried the show with a vengeance, and somehow the relaxed exquisiteness of their recorded albums was transformed into a masterful and controlled live set. Translated live, Beach House puts on a show that doesn’t just reproduce the songs on Bloom—it causes them to grow into something potent and beautiful.

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