Dreamlike Lights And Sounds: Beach House Play The Chicago Theater

When one thinks of the Chicago Theater, one may picture the names of standup comedians or elderly classic rock guitarists going solo on the marquee. An indie band might not be the first thought of who might grace the grand stage, but given the idea, Baltimore duo and dream pop afficionados Beach House seem perhaps the obvious band to headline a sold out show at the Chicago Theater. They’re one of the biggest indie bands of today, havign gathered a devoted following since their beginings in 2004. Their latest album titled was released in May of this year on Sub Pop to universal critical acclaim and it was August 8th that the band brought the album’s tour to Chicago.

Indie veterens Papercuts were the show’s openers. It was during their set that I, like most people in the crowd arrived. We all remained seated while the band played through their set of modest, dreamy tunes. With polite applause following every song, the set consisted of cuts fromt their 2018 album Parallel Universe Blues. 

After Papercuts left the stage, the house lights went up and I was able to admire the intricate decor that adorned the walls and ceiling that made the theater look more like a cathedral than a venue and it was then I realized this was the ideal setting for a Beach House show, whose music must be what the sounds of the heavens are like. In the time between sets the house filled up and an interesting collection of Hawaiian music played over the speakers.

While I sat in my seat I looked around and thought “Oh great, seats! Maybe this’ll be like seeing Tangerine Dream or Cluster or something – where we all get to sit in some magnificent setting while the sonic waves and colors wash over everyone!” Well the band took the stage to thunderous applause and every member of the crowd stood up and remained standing for the near two hour set. Which was more than fine with me and it was interesting that such dreamlike music could elicit such an energetic reaction. The first track from 2015’s Depression Cherry, “Levitation,” opened the show that consisted of cuts from (“Lemon Glow,” “L’Inconnue,” “Dive”) and other fan favorites form past releases.

One thought I had before the show, as this was my first time seeing Beach House live, was how would the songs translate into a live setting. One of the benefits (or hindrances depending on how you look at it) of being a band heavily reliant on electronics is that it could be easier to play exactly what is on the record onto the stage. The band did utilize some loops and prerecords in the set, but what brought the music to an elevated level in a live setting were a few things – their live drummer, James Barone (formerly of the band Tennis), whose percussive pounding is not present on record and gave the songs a greater ability to be felt inside of you rather than just hearing them. It gave each song a stronger presence.

The second uniqueness factor of their live show is singer/synth player Victoria Legrand. On record, her voice is rather subdued and awashed with reverb. Live, there is a healthy coating of echo but her voice is really very strong in person – she can really belt out and hold a note. Combined with the echo and effects, her powerful voice melded with the swirls and waves of sound and became another sonic tool to impart onto the audience each song’s emotion and elevate its impact.

The third aspect came from guitarist Alex Scally. Beach House is not a guitar “heavy” band per se but when it is utilized aside from as a rhythmic instrument, it cuts through on record well and is interesting. However live, the guitar parts are a bit rawer and improvised. They still retain that dream pop quality, but take the song “Space Song” for instance (my favorite song) – the hook is a high pitched line that waves up and down. Played live with Alex on slide guitar, it is more robust and not quite as polished. The distorted slides cut through well and Alex improvised a few slides, making it a bit more emotive of a hook.

Finally was the stage setup and lights. Being a fan of a more minimalist aesthetic approach when it comes to live music, I appreciated Beach House’s arrangement. The three of them wore all black (actually I think Alex had a dark blue jacket on but whatever) snd behind them was a large white screen upon which lights of all different colors were shown, changing slowly throughout the set in accordance with the music. Occasionally, tiny lights peppered the screen like a galaxy of stars and the entire time the band was silhouetted by the color which added a mysterious visual appeal to the music – very fitting. Dream pop is the type of music that pairs well with the beauty in the simplicity of lights and colors and their movements; Beach House utilized this effect tremendously in their live shows. I can confidently say that this dream pop/shoegaze style is my favorite type of music and I was glad I could see masters of the genre like Beach House do it so well.

Check out the band here.

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