Live Review: Beach House with Skyler Skjelset at The Paramount 5/4/16

Live Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra
all photos by Brittany Feenstra

Beach House, the Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, are really into surprises right now. When pre-orders for Depression Cherry went up in the summer, the band's website featured hidden singles, buried in a song recommendation generator based on the user's selection of favorite past tracks. It also featured a place to request live songs when the band came to your area later in the year. While the rest of the world worried about algorithms and data restrictions in the weird modern world of streaming music, Beach House poked fun at the whole thing from a distance, reminding listeners that being surprised is, 100% of the time, the better route to take. The band released two full length albums last year, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. The latter of those two surprised fans and critics alike with its out-of-nowhere manifestation only two months after Depression Cherry dropped. Finally, as the band embarked on their tour, they announced a second set of dates in each city, playing secret venues a tenth of the size on each preceding night, pulling almost exclusively from their classics playable with only a two-man setup. But with Beach House's appearance at the Paramount (one night after an intimate set at the Fremont Abbey), one thing was a surprise to no one: it couldn't have been more perfect. With opening support from touring band-member and former Fleet Fox Skyler Skjelset, Beach House made a show of this size still feel intimate and warm. As the band continues to jettison into the lucky stars above, they haven't forgotten a bit of closeness that made them so sweet to begin with.It is truly nuts to think of how Sub Pop's Fleet Foxes have scattered so diversely in the aftermath of 2011's Helplessness Blues. Lead singer Robin Pecknold is playing folk shows but also dropping soundtrack-esque instrumentals. Drummer J. Tillman has completely reinvented himself as the lovable bastard Father John Misty, playing indie rock and making fake Pandora commercials. And then there's lead guitarist Skyler Skjelset, who (when he's not playing with Beach House) has exited the folk fray to make some of the coolest ambient and drone music in Seattle. Skjelset's introduction was brief. He sat down and introduced himself, then twiddled with some knobs on the setup in front of him before the sound started to grow. And then grow and grow it did for a solid forty minutes, never ceasing, never shifting from the foundation all built by scratch from his meager setup. As the textures built and Skjelset added in shimmering guitar, you could hear the reminiscence of acts like New Orleans shoegaze act Belong, whose first record, October Language, mixes the same ratio of ambient and shoegaze. Skyler's ambient grooves were both challenging and soothing, meditative in nature. His set was exactly what the crowd needed before getting a chance to see Beach House: a hard reset button to put us all back at square one for taking in the wonders about to come.

Skyler Skjelset:

Even before information began circulating about Thank Your Lucky Stars, it was clear the two were directly intertwined. This album captured a sense of cosmic happenstance that echoed the grounded anxiety its predecessor quite directly. Depression Cherry, the band's first offering since 2012's Bloom, was a far cry from the massive, soaring melodies of the former. Rather, wasn't afraid to be small, to be afraid of the future, and watching days of candy slip away into oblivion. It was a heavy offering, but a necessary one, one that retook a sense of vulnerability from a year dominated by massive pop releases. But with Thank Your Lucky Stars, they showed that this is only one side of the coin. While the heaviness of the world can get anyone down, its true opposite is not lightness, but happenstance: the chance goodness in the world that reminds us that everything is going to be alright in the end. Even in its heaviest moments ("Rough Song" for one, whose title does not lie), Beach House look brightly into a smoldering horizon, waiting to see what chance encounters give them inspiration in the fading of the day. The key is not to focus too hard on what was or what will be, but live in the moment and let it amaze you.

Somehow, even without hardly ever speaking or interacting with the crowd throughout their set, Beach House captured all of these themes in subtle, brilliant gestures. The first three songs - those belonging to the photographers - were dominated by darkness. While the band won't deny the press coverage on a global scale, they kept secret the things that belonged to the crowd. No photos were allowed from the pit or the crowd for the rest of the evening. The forced the entirety of the crowd at attention from moment one, allowing literally everyone in the crowd to notice the slight shift in decoration from song to song. The light setup threw 3-D projections over the four-piece band, moving and shifting slowly as one song blended with another. None were synced particularly with a single song - after all, not a single setlist the band has put down on this tour has been identical. With every song, with every image, with every note, the surprises kept rolling, and the audience were eager to take them in heaping helpings.

Of course, the real topper of all the surprises were the choice of song arrangements. A fleshed out rendition of "Master of None" was a welcome classic at the mid-way point, before Teen Dream wonder "10 Mile Stereo" took the roof off. Playing two-man shows back to back in each city against the four-piece setup before us here at the Paramount, it's evident that Victoria and Alex are at their tightest in years. With each song, each note even, the two seem to emanate energy and emotion. Victoria is explosive on stage, one moment captivated in the reverberation of the melody at hand, the next throwing rock star hair flips and spitting across the stage on Bloom cut "Wishes" over a massive keyboard arpeggio. Alex echoes with similarly hyperbolic dynamics, one moment picking out a fractional guitar melody that feels as delicate as a pressed flower, and the next shredding through a four minute guitar solo outro on Depression Cherry's "PPP". But perhaps the two's most glorious moment was "Elegy to the Void", the Thank Your Lucky Stars pinnacle, that in the live setting only took to further intergalactic heights. Victoria joined Alex on the guitar (as she did on every Lucky Stars number), and the two turned the fuzz up to 11. As a spacial projection dove deeper into the unknown behind them, they could have played that ending build for a solid thirty minutes and no one would have complained. But with encore closer and Depression Cherry endcap "Days of Candy", the band showed us once again that they thrive in both big and small. It was a quiet closing, one that allowed the crowd to pause and consider what to take from this monumental procession before them. Both big and small can be wonderful if you are open to the surprise.

Beach House:

Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars are both out now on Sub Pop.

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