Beach House @ The Pageant, 7/11
July 12, 2012
Alternate Title–Lighting Design: How a Child Becomes an Adult
At the top of my sloppy notepad last night, I wrote, “Is a ticketholder entitled to a visual memory that includes the band’s physical form?” The Pageant hosted Beach House last night. After Wild Nothing left the stage (more on them tomorrow), black drapes were pulled off of four slatted wooden crates, paired up in the sizes of large and larger still, to loom in the background behind the instruments. There was enough space around each that light could poke around, and the boxes themselves contained rotating fans and lights. Behind the crates, a solid wall of blank, black fabric. The audience, pressed directly up against the stage, stood some 20 feet in front of the instruments, with a wide swath of wooden flooring between the two. Not a single musician appeared on stage, but the music started anyway. Here played Beach House’s wordless statement, and the theme for the entire night: “You don’t need to see us for you to feel what we’ve made for you.”
Every song last night had a specific and intricate lighting design that reflected the content of the lyrics and the mood of the music. From soothing blue bubble shapes in swiveling spotlight circles on the floor, to thousands of twinkling stars scattered across the backdrop, to eye-melting strobes and smoke that sent out a less-than-amused firefighter crew, Beach House fans were treated to a visual display that had very little to do with Victoria, Alex or their drummer. (And Alex starting a guitar jam along with the piercing smoke alarms was a special concert-going moment for me, one that I doubt will ever be repeated.)
Which leads us to the conversation we’ve been dancing around for ages: Live concerts and photography. I’ve been to shows with extreme attitude about photography (Yeah, you, Aziz Ansari). But this band never drew a solid line on the topic. There were no signs telling fans not to take pictures. Official photo passes were distributed, but there was no photo pit, so they had to throw ‘bows from within the crowd to get lined up for shots, and there wasn’t enough light to catch more than one or two decent photos. The band played several songs in near darkness, with red or blue casts on the backdrop and various colors around or inside the wooden crates. The floor spots at the front of the stage sometimes turned directly into the audience, blinding all of us whose eyes had become accustomed to darkness. House lights were turned up at intervals to try to increase the intimacy of the venue, which was apparently too big for the band’s liking, although the shout-out to the Billiken Club show was pretty funny.
The only tension over the course of the night seemed to be between the band and people who weren’t really there to hear the music. Those who’d come to enjoy being lulled by sensuous melodies and mysterious lyrics were never left wanting, and were either surprised and confused by the band’s awkward stage banter, or they smiled and nodded knowingly, because they too were irritated by people who kept taking flash photos, or crabbed about the low lighting. But on top of being annoying, those people were also completely missing the point, and to their own detriment.
Inherent in its nature, the dream state thrives on an unreliable visual memory. Beach House never made a new fan from photos of its members, nor does it want to. I’d say 89% of the audience last night understood and respected that. If you didn’t, I’m so sorry you missed a powerful, artistically interesting live music experience. Try to remember this life lesson: Next time, when the third or fourth photo fails to be in focus because the room’s too dark, put your phone down and breathe a sigh of relief. You’re exonerated from documenting this one. Open your eyes and your ears and your brain and relax. And I can tell you, during 10 Mile Stereo, when the music became a violent assault, the strobe lights were flashing and the smoke alarms were screeching, the last thing I was thinking was, “This would look so cool on Instagram.”
2. Turtle Island
4. Other People
6. Used to Be
7. Heart of Chambers
8. Equal Mind
9. Silver Soul
11. The Hours
12. New Year
15. Take Care
10 Mile Stereo
Bonnie from the RFTMusic comments section says, “Great show. One of my favorite moments was the intro they did at the very beginning of the show–it was a Jan Hammer composition from “Miami Vice” (called “Payback,” I believe)!” That is AWESOME. Thank you so much for knowing that, Bonnie!
You guys know I love concert photography and concert photographers. Some of my show-going tragedies have been shows that were unique and awesome and no professionals came to shoot it, therefore I have nothing but my own visual memory to rely on. When the light is bright and the musicians are clearly mugging for the photogs, it’s undeniably a blast.
But more of my show-going tragedies have been shows that were utterly RUINED by invasive, unprofessional, and incredibly rude people with flash cameras. If a band is playing in the dark, it’s for an artistic, aesthetic, and very personal and deliberate reason. You must respect their decision. You are not entitled to photographs of musicians, no matter how much you think you are. #nowgetoffmylawn (Although I think that Beach House’s people shouldn’t have bothered giving the professionals photo passes if they had no chance at a good shot).
Check out Josh Levi’s review for RFTMusic, too. I’m pretty comfortable with “Yeah, What He Said” for his whole review, except the setlist, which doesn’t jive with mine. I don’t write down song titles, but snippets of lyrics (just in case I get the titles wrong), and I don’t think I got mine out of order. But dream pop does weird things to space and time, and I’m willing to believe we can both be correct.