By Patrick Foster
Victoria Legrand was concerned about the atmosphere at the Black Cat on Friday night. "I want to make sure it's as dark as possible," she said, asking for the lights to be turned down. The singer, organist and visual centerpiece of the Baltimore duo Beach House needn't have worried: The gauzy veil of their music provided enough dreamy ambiance.
Kicking off a U.S. tour with more than 30 dates, Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally (joined by an unintroduced percussionist) delivered a self-assured hour-long set, striking an agreeable balance between faithful reproduction of their much-loved songs and lively interplay, while hinting at influences their stately recordings don't easily reveal.
(Read the rest of this review, after the jump.)
The pair's breathy creations -- a melange of reverb-drenched guitar, rising and falling vocals and warm, pulsing keyboards that pundits have tagged "dream pop" -- have found a larger audience since their enchanting third full-length release, "Teen Dream," in January. After a pair of albums on D.C.-based Carpark Records, the duo inked a deal with indie powerhouse Sub Pop to release "Dream." The savvy move has increased their exposure without radically altering their homegrown, analog sound. The result has been a worldwide profile (highlighted by a television debut this year), a stream of fawning reviews and the kind of capacity crowd that filled the Black Cat -- many fans simply swayed, eyes closed, as Beach House did much the same onstage.
That isn't to say the show wasn't much to look at. Legrand -- who just might have the best hair in indie rock -- is clearly growing as a singer and live performer, and Scally -- rocking a Jeff Foxworthy mustache -- played with a precise attack that belied the atmospheric tones he produced. Bathed in icy blue and white spots and surrounded by oddly shaped balloons covered in what looked like material from a Tina Turner garage sale, Legrand often seemed a lost-'80s chimera, shimmy-shuffling from behind her keyboard and delivering slow-motion head twirls.
But it was her voice that drove the action. Alternating between husky purrs and a shape-shifting battery of "oohs" and "ahs," Legrand provocatively evoked a chain of singers from Nico to Stevie Nicks to Kate Bush.
The simple instrumental frameworks that supported her voice rarely sagged: On "Silver Soul," Scally etched a ghostly slide pattern onto rumbling electronic drums; "Gila" rode a dewy, somber guitar figure; "Used to Be" strutted like a faux waltz and "Heart of Chambers" droned back on itself insistently.
And while listening to Beach House in the car or on headphones can be a trance-inducing experience that passes some obvious '60s musical signposts, the set on Friday pried open a wider field of influences: Ruminative organ and guitar pairings evoked late-period Yo La Tengo; the swelling "Take Care" climbed to Roy Orbisonesque peaks; and during one distinct interlude the band sounded chillingly like (squeamish hipsters cover your eyes) British schlumps Supertramp.
The set and its well-earned encore did accentuate the duo's chief weakness -- drums that plod annoyingly at times -- but as was the case when touring in support of 2008's "Devotion," Legrand and Scally will likely look to live shows to help them discover the next direction in which to evolve their gossamer-reverie songwriting. Judging from the surging, confident highs in Friday's performance, they've already begun that process.