Now the winter nights are drawing in, I seem to be spending more and more time shivering in long queues outside concert halls. This evening’s gig at Manchester’s medieval cathedral is a little different in that I have some stunning architecture to look at to help pass the time. Now three LP’s into their career, Beach House are becoming something of a big deal. First appearing at the Night and Day Café in 2007, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have stuck solidly to the task of producing high quality pop music which has helped them assemble a steady following of devoted fans. Now, three years later, their hard work has culminated in their biggest gig in the city so far in this stunning cathedral.Steve Strohmrier and his electric guitar is the first support act of the evening. Beneath the gaze of granite angels, blond haired Strohmrier anoints the gathered with Dylanesque tales of fire and damnation. His short set is well received for a harbinger of doom and he thanks us for our friendliness.
As an exponent of ghostly Americana, Texan Jana Hunter was chosen by folk freak numero uno Devendra Banhart to be the first artist to release a record on his Gnomonsong Records label. Giving it the quaint title ‘Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom’, Jana Hunter came and played tracks from it at Salford’s Sacred Trinity a couple of years ago then promptly dropped off the radar. That was until this year where she’s apparently made a radical departure from the barren acousticisms of her earlier work and returned as part of a new band, Lower Dens. With a curiously experimental sound, Lower Dens’ new album ‘Twin Hand Movement’ is a loose mix of the glistening atmospherics of shoegaze guitars and the steady heartbeat of krautrock; though the charred tones of Jana Hunters voice still remains a constant. It’s a gem of an album and possibly a contender for one of the records of the year. Live Lower Dens music takes on a grittier quality. Drummer Abe Sanders provides metronome rhythms over Geoff Graham’s unhurried basslines, leaving the distorted guitars of Hunter and Will Adams rip at the edges of the music in an attempt to break free and wander into unmapped territory. Obviously at this stage in their development, the band is still feeling their way around the songs and tonight it doesn’t always gel, but when it does come together it gives a glimpse of how talented Lower Dens are.
When Beach House appear on the Cathedral stage, the core duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are augmented by drummer Daniel Franz and the aforementioned Steve Strohmrier on bass and occasional keyboards, who both help them start forcefully with the dramatic ‘Gila’. The opening song sets the tempo for the rest of the performance and over the course of the next ninety minutes or so the band plays every track from their newest LP, the lovely ‘Teen Dream’, as well as a sprinkling of gems from their previous two albums. Although the Beach House duo shares equal billing it’s Victoria Legrand that commands the attention of the crowd, her keyboards and strong haunting voice being the dark interior of Beach House’s music. Offering little in the way of stage movement, the nearest she comes to any kind of stage show is boldly flinging her long hair, though in truth this matters little when she creates music with such strong emotional depth. The honeyed torpor of ‘Take Care’ brings Beach House’s wonderful set to close.
The band return shortly to play just two numbers; the first being the darkly melodic ‘Real Love’ with Victoria’s sparse piano chords and wounded intonations. Though even better is the ethereal ‘10 Mile Stereo’, which finally eases this Beach Houses show to its final conclusion on a hazy cacophony of Alex Curry’s guitar noise. Though the recorded songs of Beach House can at first listen appear similar, as tonight’s show proved, once you get under the elegant façade, there’s an almost limitless amount of treasures to be discovered; treasures that will keep you warm even in the coldest Manchester night.
Review & photos by Phil King