Beach House engages Kansas City in ethereal journey through time & space

The Arvest Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri may just be the most beautiful theater I have ever set foot in. The venue’s stained-glass windows, beautiful paintings, stunning chandeliers and ornate gold details give the feeling that one is in an ancient cathedral instead attending a concert. Perhaps that contributed to the heavenly nature of Beach House‘s performance.

As the room began to fill, Baltimore-based producer Colloboh started the show.

The air was filled with electronic melodies that Colloboh seemed to pull effortlessly out of the chaos that was his modular synthesizer. A writhing mass of cords exploding out of a metal box, Colloboh gently poked and prodded the snarl of equipment and the melodies evolved for him. Between songs, the experimental producer urged the crowd to be quiet, stating, “It’s better when you guys are quiet, I promise.” He was not wrong, but he’s also probably not used to playing for crowds of that size. Kansas City is only the fourth stop on Beach House’s 2022 Once Twice Melody Tour. Nonetheless, a hush fell over the crowd, which the musician took full advantage of. His slow and peaceful melodies began to swell and build and grow in complexity. The bassline transformed into something you could feel in your chest. The song continued and the crowd was no longer quiet, but their buzz had also changed. As the song’s intensity continued to build, the sounds coming from the audience consisted only of gasps and screams of delight. Instead of the chaotic babble of pre-show chatter, they were solely focused on the music in front of them.

Colloboh ended his set with a crescendo of booming basslines, which echoed through the theater and the ears of the audience even after he exited the stage. As I chatted with a security guard between sets, it dawned on me that Beach House’s music is extremely tough to describe to someone who has never heard it before. I found myself using words like “floaty” and “atmospheric”. The technical genre, “Dream Pop”, does an okay job, but still leaves a lot to be desired. I do find Beach House to be dreamy, sometimes even trancelike, however even those descriptions fail to convey how cathartic and euphoric the duo from Baltimore can also be. 

As Victoria Legrand (vocals, keyboard) and Alex Scally (guitar, keyboard, vocals) took the stage alongside their longtime live drummer, James Barone, it began to feel foolish to try to constrain the sounds they produce using just words. As the band played, space and time seemed to bend around them, giving onlookers the feeling of being suspended in that moment, floating alongside the song. Maybe it’s the way they masterfully layer their melodies… or, maybe it’s the band’s expert use of reverb, allowing Victoria to sing along with her past self, which gives the songs a feeling of constant liminality.

The holy tones that Legrand pushes from her keyboard melt together with Scally’s guitar, blending, shrinking and swelling, causing listeners to start to lose track of where one note ended and the other began. That level of controlled chaos also lent itself to the feeling of floating that accompanies so many of the band’s songs. The only thing which kept the performance tethered to the present moment was Barone’s crisp drums, reminding the crowd that the clock was indeed still ticking.

Beach House powered through track after track from their extensive catalogue, which spans from their eponymous 2006 debut album to their most recent release and 8th studio album, Once Twice Melody. Oftentimes bands with a similarly ‘light touch’ in the studio struggle to balance their sound when performing live… but, Beach House does not suffer from this problem. They sounded just as magnificent in-person as in their recordings. Perhaps better even, as Legrand took full advantage of the opportunity to stretch her voice, allowing notes to trail and fade or swell and grow frantic as she saw fit.

The band performed their mysterious music as shadows, almost exclusively backlit.

As rainbows and spiraling black and white optical illusions exploded on the screen behind them, twisting and turning with the flow of the music, the band remained in shadow. This choice was clearly intentional and adds to the ethereal nature of the show. The depersonalization of the artists removed a barrier most probably haven’t considered: instead of a crowd of humans watching other humans play music, this show felt more like a crowd of humans staring into an abyss and experiencing the sounds coming out of it directly. 

As the show swelled to a conclusion, it felt like the better part of a dream — the part you have been waiting for since you fell asleep. The conclusion to your brain’s frivolous spinning, that will hopefully wrap up all the loose ends and questions created along the way. And then, right as you’re getting there, you wake up. And, a security guard is ushering you towards the door. And, the last hour and a half is already fading from your memory, even as you grasp at it. You barely remember what just happened, all you know is that you liked it and you want to go back. And, you walk away with Legrand’s final words still ringing in your ears… “I will see you in the future.”

Photography by Sean Rider

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