Beach House’s SF intimate ‘installation show’ a vivid dream
Victoria Legrand appears, shrouded by a gray screen at the front of a modest stage. A faint violet brume weaves through her hair and around her crown, just barely defining a cameo. Alex Scally bows his head, pensive, as if he’s readying to dive into his guitar. They are alone, without further accompaniment. We in the audience recline, leaning on our elbows and lovers, scattered with pillows about the floor of the theater.
Rich bouquets of orchids bloom, projected on the walls around the room, and Legrand drifts further into her words as the flowers open: “Love you all the time / Dream I’m in the saltwater.”
There’s a tacit understanding upon entering a Beach House performance, perhaps even more magnified when the audience shrinks to a size of 200, as it did at the Mission’s Gray Area Theater on Tuesday night: you’re entering a shared lucid dream.
The show was part of the duo’s Installation concerts, a series meant to invite listeners into the intimate creative space of Scally and Legrand.
“It has always been difficult to carry the initial moments of creativity that inspire our music through the process of making and releasing a record. There are many chances along the way for the feeling to get lost,” the band wrote on their site. “This installation performance is an attempt to elicit this pure, embryonic state of mind for ourselves and our audience.”
And even more so than in sets during the duo’s regular tour (which is happening alongside the installation series), the show was enveloping. Instrumentals consumed Legrand’s mellifluous voice, creating a singular, dense texture. Two six-row bookcases of dozens of twinkling technicolor fiber-optic flowers flanked the stage. No one dared disturb the sedative calm by snapping a photo.
I think most people would describe a Beach House show with the catch-all word, “dreamy,” but it seems a narrative that the band likes to lean into, and sometimes even toy with. For example, at one moment on “Turtle Island,” Legrand charges towards vocal discord; it’s a stressful disruptor for someone in a placid state, but the discomfort is short-lived. It’s calmed by the hum of rain, resolving the number, allowing the dream to float on.
There’s a challenge — even a hurdle — when staging immersive art-forward productions such as this: it can be difficult to manipulate a milieu into serving your thematic purpose. How do you force people to feel a certain emotion? How do you make your listeners experience the beauty of sadness?
In Beach House’s case, it was a multi-sensory approach: visual, sonic, and even tactile, in that guests were quite literally encouraged to lounge on pillows. The result, when well-executed, is a different way of imagining the live show, and in the best cases, is a way to connect with the audience in a more meaningful way.
On Tuesday night at the theater, the connection was mutual. Beach House, performance veterans, orchestrated the mood and the blue aesthetic masterfully, effortlessly conducting the melancholy reverie, and wrapping us inside a prismatic fantasy realized.