An RCC Fringe performance by US dream pop duo Beach House shows that while university music programming may have grown more ambitious, some things about campus life never change.
“Just forget about the classrooms and the neon,” Victoria Legrand says early in the night. Sandwiched between two university buildings, this year’s RCC Fringe stage recalls Laneway Festival’s early Adelaide setting in the nooks of UniSA’s City West campus, albeit on a Wednesday night overlooked by office and student spaces glowing white from overhead lighting. Luckily, Legrand and Alex Scally make for a fairly agreeable study soundtrack.
Silver Soul from the band’s breakthrough Teen Dream lays out the recognisable Beach House template early in the set, with a trademark combination of organ, ticking drum machine patterns, guitar arpeggios and Legrand’s vocals lathered in reverb. That familiar sound floats in and out of the set as they weave through their back catalogue, reaching its zenith with Myth off 2012’s Bloom.
But knottier tracks from 7 and Depression Cherry show how the band has teased at the edges of their dream pop sound in recent years, frequently channelling Pornography-era The Cure with thumping 80s snare drums and moody, winding guitar lines. 7 opener Dark Spring and Dive are particular highlights, the latter featuring a late-in-the-game gear shift to an uptempo drumbeat borrowed from Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Moments like this and Teen Dream deep cut 10 Mile Stereo are bolstered by the presence of live drummer James Barone, giving Beach House an immediacy that breaks from the mid-tempo reveries that have defined their career.
With its woozy, pitch-bending organ line Lemon Glow is a good reminder of why 7 has become the band’s most acclaimed album in years, while the distorted guitar and shoegaze atmosphere of Sparks is an satisfying blend of Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. Tessellating footage of Legrand and Scally is projected kaleidoscope-like behind them as they play, their figures bathed in a soft, daytime soap glow perfectly matched to the dreamlike quality of their music.
It’s only broken by the occasional reminder that we are indeed standing in a University campus at the start of semester, such as when one of the jostling, hopelessly drunk young men in front of me turns to his friend and mouths alarmingly, ‘did you vom?!’ He did, quite a bit, and as their mates turn their iPhone flashlights to the grass to inspect the results and clear a projection radius in the crowd I feel a mixture of revulsion and, oddly, nostalgia.
A decade ago, listening to Beach House at the University of Adelaide meant blasting Teen Dream through headphones on an iPhone classic while steering clear of jug-sculling engineering students and fundraising sports teams on the Barr Smith Lawns en route to the library. To see these worlds brought together – whether through Beach House cracking the mainstream or the musical taste of boisterous bros pivoting from Oz rock to dream pop – is a lot to unpack. But at the very least, it’s very listenable.
Beach House performed at RCC Fringe on Wednesday, March 6