Tuesday, April 24, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1131: The Beaches

Sometimes an album just comes along at the right time and you know it is going to make a splash. That’s how I felt listening to this next record.

Disc 1131 is… Late Show
Artist: The Beaches

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? The Beaches chill out in a theatre, getting their sixties on. No, they do not always dress like it’s 1968 but they pull it off here.

How I Came To Know It: About a week ago my buddy Nick suggested we go see the Beaches live. I’d never heard of them, but he sent along a few clips and I liked what I heard. While I was at the show I bought three of their CDs, including this one. I also bought a tour shirt and a set of stickers. How much do I pay for my rock and roll lifestyle? Too much, but not more than I can afford.

How It Stacks Up:  The Beaches have a couple of EPs but this is their only full length album. I suppose I could try to stack up the EPs, but since I haven’t even listened to them yet, it seems pointless. Let’s just move on to the rating, shall we?

Ratings: 4 stars

 “The Late Show” is the first full length album from all-girl alt-rock band The Beaches and they’ve already won a Juno. I could care less about the Junos, but listening to this record for the last couple of days made me excited for this band’s burgeoning success.

Sometimes bands just know who they are and how to make the best of it, and that’s how it feels with the Beaches. Listening to “Late Show” I could hear the echo of dozens of other great bands, including Green Day, the Go-Gos, Sleater Kinney, the Pack AD and Sheer Mag to name a few. It is a blend of power pop, hard rock, and hints of synth and funk all mixed up into something…new.

The melodies are ear-worms and summer sing along anthems, but the Beaches are not content with fun-in-the-sun pop. This record also packs some serious crunch where it is called for, and even sneaks in a bit of experimental organ in the background when you aren’t looking.

The record is exquisitely arranged. The songs build slow, crescendo into full rock crunch and then sit back again to draw you in for the next wave. The guitar licks are restrained and energized and I’m not sure I’ve heard better placed or delivered hand claps and shouts of “woo!” The album gets you excited and keeps you excited.

Gold” features the whole band singing the last word at the end of every verse, creating a chant-like effect that makes you want to throw your hand in the air, bob your head in time and sing along. Go ahead and do that – it feels good and don’t worry, when they switch off the chant effect for the chorus there are handclaps, so you’ll still be able to participate.

I’m almost disappointed with how catchy this stuff is. I like it, but I can see it becoming ubiquitous in the same way that Portugal.The Man has become earlier in the year. I liked that record but have soured on it since hearing “Feel It Still” a billion times. I hope it doesn’t happen to “Late Show” but I even if it does I think it’ll be OK – I just like these songs too much and besides, I want this band to succeed.

Everyone in the band plays well. The drums are crisp, and the guitar grooves. Vocalist Jordan Miller is able to deliver a punk vibe in her lower register and then hit power pop notes up high. The effect is a clever mix of crunch and sugar. On “Back of My Heart” she channels early Ann Wilson and pulls it off. Even when she is singing a light hearted ditty about wearing a boyfriend’s T-shirt she rocks out. I searched for signs of insincerity and empty gimmickry but I couldn’t find any.  It is all a bit pop around the edges, but it is really good pop.

In terms of subjects, a lot of the album deals with the rise to stardom, recognizing that haters are gonna hate, with a focus on the challenges women face in rock and roll, particularly around image. On “Late Show” the Beaches successfully walk the line between staying sexy and doing it on their own terms.

Most of the album is high energy rock and roll, but on “Highway 6” they strip it down to a synthy mood piece as Jordan Miller’s dreamy regret-laden voice sings:

“Isn’t it so funny
How beautiful you are
When you’re walking out the door…”

But before the song can pull you too far down, the title track comes on with a guitar riff reminiscent of “American Idiot” and just as catchy. The Beaches won’t let you stay down and the final three songs all rock out again, ending up with “Sweet Life” where the ladies dream of  “…milkshakes full of pills/and a big empty house up on the hill” and “stiff drinks, cheap love and a fire.

There’s that rush to stardom again, and even as they celebrate it they are aware of the pitfalls that may await them. It is a clever way to end a solid record – cautionary and celebratory in equal measure. And yes there are hand claps and plenty of “woo-ooos!” to close things out as well.

Best tracks: Hard to pick just a few…so I won’t. Back of My Heart, Money, T-Shirt, Turn Me On, Gold, Highway 6, Late Show, Sweet Life

The concert: Sunday, April 22, 2018 at the Capital Ballroom, Victoria

Based on their videos I had a feeling the Beaches would be good, but I was not prepared for just how amazing this show was. These women are on the road to stardom, and I feel privileged to have seen them on the way up.

After a busy weekend I wasn’t terribly excited to go see a show on a Sunday night but I really liked what I’d heard from the Beaches so I decided to give it a go. After all, I’m not going to look back in twenty years and regret missing that night sitting in front of the television.

It doesn’t help that the Capital Ballroom opens at seven but routinely makes you sit around drinking for a couple of hours before anything happens. I fill a bit of that time getting a prime seat (which are hard to find, and harder to guard) and hitting the merch table. The Beaches get full marks for a solid merch table, with a good selection ‘manned’ by an engaging and beautiful woman covered in tattoos. My one beef was that they took Visa, which slows down the lineup to a crawl. I feel like the merch table is one of the last “cash only” bastions out there, and we should keep it that way for at least a little longer.

The opening act was Taylor Knox, a tall skinny alt-rock kid who did everything right. He introduced himself, made sure to give a shout out to the headliner and played well. He had a seventies look and a nineties sound and while it didn’t inspire me to go back to the merch table for his album, he was a solid opener.

Then the Beaches hit the stage and it was like the arrival of a hurricane. Star power washed off these women before they played a note. Some bands are lucky to have one person that has the “it” factor. All four women in the Beaches have it – a palpable “look at me and don’t look away” power that you can’t fake and you can’t teach.

The drummer, Eliza Enman-McDaniel has a Tank Girl punk vibe, as she hunches over the drums with a feverish, inwardly focused intensity. Bassist/lead vocalist Jordan Miller has a coquettish power and a hundred different ways to stylishly swing a bass while she winks at you and smiles in a way that says “yeah, I’m teasing you a little, but you like it.” Guitarist Kyle Miller channels the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin with high kicks and punk pop style. Keyboardist Leandra Earl looks like she fell out of the seventies with bell bottom pants that she performed shoulder high kicks in while playing the organ.

With the possible exception of Enman-McDaniel (who still draws you in with her intensity) every woman loves the spotlight. Despite this they never seem to be competing for your attention. Instead, like a well-mixed song, their performance lets your focus shift back and forth and take it all in. They seem genuinely happy to share the stage with each other.

And that’s just how they perform, because as a band they are musically powerful and precise. A typical Beaches song relies heavily on precision timing, and these women have it. Despite all the brilliant stage moves, they never miss their cue. Earl was particularly impressive. In addition to keyboards, she plays guitar often taking complicated lead licks. At one point she was playing the keyboards with one hand and the guitar with the other.

If there was one negative it was that the mix – for the most part excellent – was a little low on both Earl’s keyboard and her mic. She was doing some pretty cool effects and I wanted to hear them a bit better, but by keeping the organ back in the mix they established a much more powerful rock vibe, which I think was the idea.

The Beaches have a confidence in themselves and each other that is undeniable and it is with good reason. These are four very talented women with personality to spare armed with an album full of potential hits.

The crowd on the floor – mostly twenty-somethings – were fully into the show as well, many singing along or filling in hand claps from the album at exactly the right moment. Overall this was one of the best rock shows I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a few.

Victorians lucky enough to be at the show should savor the experience because this is a band on the rise that might not be back for a while. They’re off to be stars.

1 comment:

Casey said...

Great review! Brings back the chills from the show. Thanks!