It was cool, gloomy and quiet on South Beach Tuesday night, hardly anyone's idea of Miami in the spring. Appropriate weather, though, for the arrival of Beach House, the Baltimore duo whose slow-simmering, melancholic indie pop is far better suited to such sepulchral conditions than the sunny days its name conjures.
The band's show at the Jackie Gleason Theater (or Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, if you prefer) was the fourth on a 40-date tour in support of its upcoming LP Bloom, but the first in a major city, with previous stops coming in Virginia and North and South Carolina. Playing for a little under an hour and a half, vocalist-organist Victoria Legrand, guitarist Alex Scally and a drummer performed a set heavy on material from the new album, which hits stores May 15th. The audience's lack of familiarity with these songs (two, "Myth" and "Lazuli," have thus far been released online) added to the subdued feel of an evening that began with an opening set from Zomes, a one-man project of former Lungfish member Asa Osborne whose skeletal, instrumental dirges struggled to fill the roomy Gleason Theater's half-filled auditorium. ("As if Beach House isn't mellow enough," one dude was overheard complaining).
It wasn't until the tribal drums heralding the start of "Norway" (from 2010's Teen Dream) kicked in three songs into Beach House's set that the crowd was rewarded with familiarity, prompting what might have been the evening's loudest applause. Teen Dream, Legrand and Scally's third album, is their best and best-known work; unsurprisingly, it was the six songs (including "Walk in the Park," "Silver Soul," "Zebra," "Take Care" and "10 Mile Stereo") from this album that had the most immediate and measurable impact on the crowd. An exception was "Gila," the standout track from 2008's Devotion and one of few pre-Teen Dream songs with the polish of Beach House's more recent material.
Beach House spent much of the last two years on the road supporting Teen Dream and, for a band whose roots are in boutique-y, bedroom-style recordings, their performances have taken on the precision of a well-oiled touring machine. Few songs performed Tuesday night deviated structurally from their recorded blueprints. Legrand's husky voice, an intoxicating contralto that evokes Nico and Christie McVie and is the band's defining feature, sounded as crisp and clear as it does on those recordings.
One thing Beach House doesn't have much of in its live show is physical presence. Scally plays his slide guitar seated, while Legrand sings hovered over a stacked pair of vintage organs. Instead, their lighting Tuesday night played a critical role in directing, and maintaining, the audience's attention. The band's arrangement on stage had great symmetry, with Legrand framed by two nearly 10-foot tall wooden columns, smaller versions of which hemmed in Scally and the drummer. Back and side lights danced off the columns' slats, offering spare Venetian blind-style illumination that would make a Forties film noir cinematographer proud. Often, Legrand's face was completely obscured, a black cipher framed by brown hair and a white blazer. Only on a handful of occasions was the meditative, dream-like quality of the performance broken up by something more palpable and immediate. As "Zebra" and the set-closing "Myth" reached their climactic payoffs, Legrand let herself loose, whipping her hair in a headbanging frenzy worthy of Dave Mustaine or James Hetfield.