The venue was round, the songs were circular. Baltimore's Beach House had arrived in Camden Town. The duo of Alex Scally (guitar) and Victoria Legrand (vocals/keys) were on hand to demonstrate their elusive art of constructing simple yet devastatingly effective pop songs.
It's not an easy feat. But Beach House have an uncanny ability to set up scaffolding on a tune, tear out the superfluous and hammer their way to one killer riff or chord that becomes the central axis of the song. The mesmeric interplay between Scally and Legrand is trickier than it first appears as they often swap the logical roles, with Scally handling the flashy runs more easily performed on the piano while Legrand drops a smattering of low-end chordal drones for her band mate to swoon over with his laser-sharp surf guitar attack. Close your eyes and take it apart and there's a simplicity that deserves respect - mainly because of how well it is executed. And over the 19 songs and 90 minutes of the sold-out show, the pair - joined by superb drummer Daniel Franz - revealed an obsessive attention to detail and painstaking love of subtlety.
Again and again, Beach House demonstrate that it's the small things that matter when it comes to building on their woozy dream pop theme and etch it into all of their songs, pushing their nuances to absurd heights only to then have to maintain it for the rest of the night. Or album, as they have done recently on their fourth release, Bloom. And it's with Bloom that they begin, as Scally's quick-fire guitar peals and Franz's relentless ride cymbal set the scene for Legrand's discomforting lyrics: "My mother said to me that I would get in trouble, Our father won't come home, cause he is seeing double". Here, the band work for every riff, hook and shimmer of their heady pop tunes. But the big surprise of the night was how adding the languid and almost jazzy approach of Franz to the group expands the clinical sound of the band and loosens them up in swinging style. This was the difference between pressing play at home and getting the spine-tingle of their live show as the songs leapt to life.
The other major departure from their recorded work was the sound desk mangling Legrand’s voice by flattening it in the mix. It lost its lilting high end and ethereal joy, but Legrand powered on in convincing fashion with her wordless cooing creating moments of rapture. Her voice is surprisingly more substantial than you would guess from listening to any of their albums.
The entire set and single encore from Beach House was drawn from either Bloom or Teen Dream. The one exception was introduced by Legrand saying simply: "We're going to play a very old song," as they launched into Heart of Chambers from their 2009 album, Devotion. It was an illuminating exercise. Not because it strayed far from the Beach House playbook but because of how it seemed half-baked and incapable of resolving itself compared to the dialled-in precision of their more recent tunes. While it was certainly more raw and raucous, it showed how the band have tweaked their way to an uncompromising discipline which escapes most young bands. And as they finished off the night with the epic Irene from Bloom, it capped a satisfying and solid night from the musicians from Charm City.