Beach House gets a taste of the major leagues

Touring with indie hit Vampire Weekend, Baltimore duo plays bigger venues

September 09, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Beach House is growing up.

Before this year, the four-year-old atmospheric pop duo from this area mainly played clubs and small festivals. Lead singer Victoria Legrand said the largest gig to date was a 1,400-person crowd at Webster Hall in New York City.

There were no cushy riders, decked-out tour buses or security to keep drunken fans away. Sometimes crazy things happened after shows, as you might expect if you're an indie band with no handlers.

"Crazy things like when you are in France and someone who looks like [singer] Serge Gainsbourg and is wasted tries to attack your van at 3 in the morning," Legrand recalled.

But since they hooked up with indie supernova Vampire Weekend in August for a tour, Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally have begun to enter the major leagues. There are no encounters with crazy Parisian marauders, for starters. They've been traveling by bus and playing arenas.

"When you're touring with Vampire Weekend, everything is super-structured," Legrand said.

On Saturday, the Baltimore band comes back home to open for the successful New York band at Merriweather Post Pavilion in what promises to be a hipster Shangri-La. The Dum Dum Girls will also perform.

Even before touring with Vampire Weekend, Beach House was showing signs of maturing. Its new album, "Teen Dream," which was released in January, took the two in a fresh, more accessible direction than their previous outings. The acclaim that followed — indie music bible Pitchfork rated it a nine on a scale of 10 — resulted in more bookings and more festival gigs.

Whereas no Beach House review before "Teen Dream" was complete without the words "hazy," or "ethereal," new songs like "Norway" and "10 Mile Radio" zoom to a steady rain dance drumbeat that dares the band's aloof fans to get out of their dimly lit rooms and onto the dance floor.

This is still digitized soul, but now it's booming, as if they're projecting to the back of the room.

Legrand wouldn't say whether the new sound is a calculated effort to reach larger crowds — though this is the group's first album for medium-size label Sub Pop — but its pop approach is a natural for festival gigs.

"The music is intensified," Legrand said. "We make a big sound out of very little."

She and Scally have been promoting "Teen Dream" on a 66-city tour since January. In June, they played Britain's muddy Glastonbury Festival. And two days later, they took a 20-minute boat ride to a Norwegian island for an hourlong set at the Hove Festival. In October, they'll be at Austin City Limits, where standard-bearers like Phish and the Eagles are also slated to perform.

Still, she calls the brush with big venues and bigger crowds "an experiment." When we spoke, she was 10 minutes away from a sound check at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, a 16,000-capacity venue in Toronto.

" Britney Spears and Celine Dion play shows here," Legrand noted derisively.

Legrand said the band is accustomed to playing midsize venues, like Shepherd's Bush Empire in London or Webster Hall, but the Vampire tour is an experience it needed to have. The successful band introduces Beach House to new fans, yields bigger paychecks and allows access to venues that the two might not get to play again, like the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, which she calls a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"This is how we make our living," Legrand said. "After this is done, we'll return to playing clubs and doing our thing. We won't be supporting anybody, we'll just be Beach House."

The Merriweather show is valedictory, then, a signal to their home crowd that thw two have made it by performing at one of the area's largest stages. Legrand said they'll tour through the end of the year, headlining some shows in Europe in November, and perhaps Australia after. She and Scally write constantly on the road, but it's hard to flesh out arrangements on the move.

"It's something we miss when we're not in Baltimore: a practice space."

Perhaps in a nod to what they're working on, Legrand said she's been listening to Linda Ronstadt lately.

"I can't say where were heading, but we're excited about the time to write."

ermaza@baltsun.com

If you go

Beach House and Vampire Weekend perform Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. The Dum Dum Girls are the opening act. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30-45. Call 877-435-9849 or go to ticketfly.com.

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