On Friday night Beach House, perhaps the biggest active band to emerge from Baltimore's music scene, performed to a packed crowd at the Lyric Opera House, their first time performing in their hometown in three years.
Now let's stop right there. It is at this point in the review I must reveal something of a critical bias, and something related to said bias that played out on Twitter between the band and a local blogger just hours before the show.
Well before openers Lower Dens and Yo La Tengo were set to take stage, Beach House, comprised of Alex Scally on guitar and Victoria Legrand on keys and vocals, tweeted out: "Incredibly grateful and excited to watch @TheRealYLT and @lowerdens tonight at the lyric in bmore. First hometown show in 3 years!"
The Baltimore Chop, author of CP's Best Local Blog in 2011 (and, full disclosure, a friend of this writer), offered the following explanation for the long layoff: "Because you're posers."
In a tweet that has since been deleted, the band responded, "born and raised, come say to our faces." To which the Chop responded: "it's not your actual residential status I challenge" and "as far as saying anything to your face, I can't be bothered to pony up for the Lyric or Merriweather."
I don't know if I'd go so far as to toss out the word "posers," and the cost seemed about right for a venue of this size and magnitude, but let me say this: Three years is a long time for a local band to skip over its hometown. There are many touring bands from other parts of the country that have played Baltimore multiple times in that span.
When I relayed this opinion to another friend of mine, he sent me a Spotify link to the Morrissey song "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful." But that's not really it. This isn't one of those "they sold out!" diatribes. It's petty and petulant to throw around that tired argument, so forget all that. Any band that is successful enough to actually make a living off their art and years of hard work has every right to do just that. But plenty of Baltimore bands have reached this level and still managed to play hometown shows with regularity.
There are few, if any, social contracts a band should be beholden to, but playing at least occasional shows for local fans, many of them people who watched the group grow over time and have supported their work for years before they became successful, should be one of them. If Bruce Fucking Springsteen can play the Stone Pony every couple years, Beach House can at least stop somewhere in town.
So I went to the Lyric not feeling as if this was a triumphant hometown return but thinking I needed to be won over once again.
And there were plenty of moments from the set that won me over.
Beach House's success in recent years has allowed them to put together a stage show that creates an alluring and captivating beauty suitable to the dreamy mood of its music. Lights swoosh with purples, oranges, and corals. Big beams spiral into the rafters of the large opera house. Little white lights on a dark backdrop twinkle like stars in the sky. During spare, calming moments, Legrand and Scally are sometimes lit by only a key light, creating a presence of beguiling mystery. There were a few times, however, where quick flashes of piercing white lights were a bit overwhelming, causing audience members to turn away or shade their eyes.
It's clear their busy live schedule has made them tight and crisp as band, and the addition of a touring drummer gives songs, new and old, greater depth and immediacy.
Old favorites "You Came To Me," "Gila," and "Master of None," sounded fuller and fleshed out, perfect companions to the tighter arrangements from Beach House's two most recent albums, Teen Dream and Bloom.
Several songs in, after informing the audience it was okay to leave their seats and stand, Beach House ran through a performance of "Norway," off Teen Dream, that was so powerful and enchanting it probably would have gotten people out of their chairs on its own.
Throughout the night, Scally showed as much energy as a guitarist who remains mostly seated can show, bouncing around on his stool and sometimes letting the swoons of a song bring him to his feet. It was sometime around "Master of None" or "Silver Soul" that Legrand seemed to find another gear, becoming more demonstrative in her stage mannerisms, more energetic in her playing, and pushing the range of her lush vocals.
The final stretch of "Wishes," "Take Care," and "Myth," showed the band at its most radiant and majestic, in full command of songs that wash over the crowd with their ethereal beauty.
Had they pulled me back in? Definitely. Beach House has upped their game as performers and professionals, the fruits of many years of hard work. And there is something rather remarkable about seeing a local group you've seen perform in front of a few dozen people take on a sold out opera house. They've earned everything that's come their way.
Still, there was a little bit of irony in Beach House having Yo La Tengo play just before them as a special guest. The trio's set was spare and beautiful, if only a bit too brief. But the thing about Yo La Tengo is they've been one of the hardest-working bands for nearly three decades and have grown to become one of the most respected bands in independent music, and they still accord their native Hoboken special treatment, including an eight-show run at Maxwell's last December.
There's something to be said for that.