It really wasn’t all that long ago that Victoria Legrand and longstanding accomplice Alex Scally last shacked up in London. Then, Beach House sold out the Roundhouse; tonight they’re in town for the first of two full houses way out west London at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. It was then earliest November; it’s now late March, and it’s considerable degrees colder. Yet bitter though it may be, it feels an apt fit with the unrelentingly wintry themes to have long since blighted their back catalogue.
Another element to have changed along with the weather is the clientele the duo attract and as they continue to outstretch their tentacles into forever less esoteric atmospheres, impatient patter turns to Hendrix, football idols and so forth and similarly, so too their backdrop has changed from the pseudo-futuro slats against which their silhouettes were once cast to a multilayered ripple of white tassel. It’s the sort perhaps more commonly associated with strip joints than the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, these lingering spectral wafts hung from the skeletal puppetry of blackened angular frames dripping white. Beach House have always strived for the subduedly spectacular as far as stage design may be concerned, and this latest configuration is, quite categorically, no exception.
Darkness then descends, the disjointed Purple Rain sprinkling of Prince’s The Beautiful Ones bathing the stalls. It may initially appear an outré reference point, though the similarities between this and, say, Wild become patently rampant as its intro progresses and evolves into the Bloom dreamboat itself. It’s a seamless transition, and a telltale sign of Legrand and Scally finally coming to terms with their enhanced standing as esteemed ambassadors of contemporary pop culture. Lest we forget, pop reportedly finds itself in dire straits with only a slew of Emeli Sandé LPs for a paddle and as such, few can lay as firm a claim to the crown left dejected years ago as the Baltimore twosome. And that’s why they’ve been allowed to seep into that more mainstream consciousness, I’d reckon – a reality transparently reflected both in tonight’s audience, and their recent increases in album sales. All is on the up…
And as such, reluctant though they may have always appeared, the pairing have at last become the mistress and master of swoonsome ceremonies they never so much as even seemed to consider becoming. I mean Legrand tonight indulges in a goddamn costume change midway through, slipping into something spangly though it’s the synergy in which the duo themselves share that tonight glints most lustrously: Scally’s every guitar line cascades like the irreconcilably doleful final descent of a helicopter spiralling down seaward towards inevitable ruin about Legrand’s vocal which is, here, that bit more potent than ever before. This latter, though, is the starriest of their every attraction – sequinned glad rags included – and with their every outing it’s becoming forever more one of those voices. An absolute nonpareil, it assumes an oaky quality on “very old song” Turtle Island which is preluded, and maybe even powered by a prerequisite swig whilst it is her coo gelid as condensed exhalations that whisks us up and away upon the glittering twinkles of Norway. It’s a Teen Dream of another era; another echelon, and one which will perpetually find itself just out of our earthly reaches.
Legrand thus becomes the enticing siren scarcely visible atop a motionless throng of street urchins and deep sea darkness. She’s even drenched in a thalassic azure as Troublemaker weaves its wicked way into the evening which, antithetically, strings the show together as opposed to “pulling everything apart.” The inevitable wafts of weedy perfumery – an increasingly prevalent taste at shows across the capital – pervade the stalls from “out of the blue”, serving only to enhance the already unwound quality to it all. The show itself thus assumes a lucid format: songs drift into and lap over one another, ebbing and flowing elegantly à la longshore drift. The familiarly embracive Walk In The Park, into the crystalline blues of Silver Soul and on into the quasi-epiphanic soothing of The Hours. Though it’s this bracing distich taken from Teen Dream escapades previous at which the soirée peaks, and it’s then that the pair can be pinpointed at the very apex of their combined powers.
Theirs are emotive, overtly compassionate capacities though as a standout moment, never are they more beguiling nor breathtaking than during On The Sea – a crestfallen crush of again breathless sighs buffeted by rolling keys and blustering tremolo. The sound is articulated to a tee – it’s utterly immaculate, and vents how I can only imagine it must feel to luxuriate in the numbing warmth found only at the very core of an ice cube. And it is, without question, the most arresting piece of performance I’ve yet seen of them on any of the nineteen times they’ve yet played London.
The reaction, however, is somewhat subdued – it always seems to be, with each song met only with genteel ripplets of applause. Though as opposed to the importunate murmuring to have altogether infected their previous voyage across the North Atlantic to our humble shores and to north London, we’re tonight held rapt if still static as the Antarctic. We bob only gently, inadvertently mimicking Scally’s lonely buoy motions as though hypnotised by their calming charms.
And these, it must be said, are only magnified by the undiluted theme of bottomless nauticalia to course through the set. The ‘Empire itself is elaborately adorned in leafy gold as though a coveted treasure trove, or an amphibian amphitheatre – its balconies spattered with flaxen shells, turquoise scales and other such underwater regalia. By the time they come to air 10 Mile Stereo late on, the room is as though the room is a mammoth oyster shell as lights shot through the hanging fibres (each one like the dangling lappets of a jellyfish) riffle lithely upon those balconies above. And striking as the show may be, it’s the song itself which is the gleaming pearler right at the heart of its irrefutable allure. Elsewhere, dry ice ambles the atmosphere aimless as oceanic fog only to be momentarily struck by blinding lighthouse beams stung down from spotlights overhead and if only sporadically, Legrand and Scally are drowned in it all. Though rather than detract, all this fancy staging only intensifies the puissance of the pop they come to purvey, as it’s this which is showered with our unadulterated attentions. Theirs is an immersive experience, and it’s ever more so in these more intimate of ambiences.
Though as with any tightly bound affinity, it can become that bit bittersweet and Scally’s deferential concession that “we’re playing a slightly longer than usual set as we may not be back here for a very long time” is the moment at which we’re struck with a pain to emulate that of Ahab’s oxidised spear ground callously in the blubbery flank of Moby Dick. That they should choose to inundate us with this grim information just as we’re made to spew effusive extolment of the devastating gushes of New Year which tumble witheringly across the room renders it that bit more dispiriting still.
Doused in that inimitable melodrama of theirs, it recedes to leave Zebra in its wake – the duo’s ostensible greatest hit galloping triumphantly to the fore to profuse whooping and the like. “I love you, Victoria!” surges a wayward heckle flighted her way like a forlorn message in an iridescent bottle. “No way!” she retorts, only for a moment uncomfortable with her ringleadership.
It’s of absolute irrelevance, however, when they’re able to call upon and in turn rustle up a blend of old and new that’s this unequivocally honed. There’s a similarly unquestionably excessive reliance on the latter (both Gila and Apple Orchard positively astound, incidentally) yet that which ties it all together is the overriding roughness which repeatedly bobs up to the surface. It’s a thoroughly accomplished, and with that cohesive performance in refined pop implementation, though the rudimentary beats and raw arpeggiation of Lazuli attest to it being somewhat ragged around the edges. Kind of like driftwood from a once well varnished vessel, which one day dawdles to shore a withered figure of its former self. And it’s as such that Beach House leave us – a perfectly imperfect paragon of modern-day pop. Legrand at one moment playfully intones, “We’re lucky as shit” though really, those are the words we, as an audience, ought to be gurgling tonight.