Saturday, February 8, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1340: The Beaches

This next review is of a band I saw in concert earlier in the week. For my thoughts on the concert scroll down, but first – as is my tradition – I’ve reviewed their newest studio release.

Disc 1340 is…The Professional
Artist: The Beaches

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover? Four very young-looking Beaches. If I heard correctly at the concert (dialogue was tough to pick up) I think they said this picture was from when they were in high school. Since then, Kylie Miller (far right) has gone blonde. And Leandra Earl (far left) has gone reddish-brown.

Here Earl is making what appears to be a tiger claw with her hand, but she could just be dancing. Or maybe just waving. It’s hard to tell.

How I Came to Know It: When I heard the Beaches were coming to town to play a live show I wondered what album they were touring. Turns out it was this one, which I had missed when it was released. I picked up a copy at the show, along with a nifty tour shirt.

How much do I pay for my rock and roll lifestyle? That night, I paid $50.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Beaches albums. Only one is full length, and the other three (including “The Professional”) are all EPs. I like the full album best, but it is in a category of its own. Of the three EPs, “The Professional” comes in at #2.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Since their first album, the Beaches have displayed a knack for writing catchy tunes. On their latest EP, “The Professional” they prove they’ve still got the touch.

The Beaches have carved out a nice piece of territory mid-way between pop and rock. This stuff is radio friendly, but it has enough angst and guitar punch to give it the gravitas it needs. “The Professional” is their most smoothly produced album to date, and that rock-edge is critical, because without it this record would be all polish with no grit.

Polished or otherwise, the band plays tight little rock songs that are catchy as hell. They gave me a swagger to my step walking around town. The style elements are typical of bands in the digital download/streaming age: it is all over the map. No longer are bands limited to the 50 records in their parents’ collection and the 50 more at various friends’ houses. Now the entire catalogue of 60+ years of modern music is at their fingertips.

On “The Professional” I got hints of early eighties pop, anthemic nineties alt-rock and modern dance music. The songs aren’t new in terms of their individual components, but the Beaches do a great job of blending these influences into something uniquely their own.

After a couple of bright up-tempo rock songs with “Desdemona” and “Fascination” the band starts the third track, “Snake Tongue” with some ethereal keyboard from Leandra Earl. This song is the best one on the album in terms of showing off Jordan Miller’s vocals, as well as representing the best of their sound. I believe the song is about the rude gestures that assholes make at pretty women, described in the chorus as:

“Cold snake tongue stuck in between
Two fingers shaped like a V
O why would you think I’d want to meet you?”

There are many great lines in this song, but my favourite is:

“Just because I’ve got this fresh face
Doesn’t mean I want to taste your toothpaste.”

It’s a nice reminder that this is not the way to appreciate a young and beautiful woman. Sadly, the assholes in question are probably not listening. Assholes are like that. At least the rest of us can feel that – through the Beaches – someone is at least telling them off.

Another favourite for me was “Want What You Got”. With its staccato delivery and dance pop vibe, it reminded me heavily of early Lady Gaga. If you listen to the lyrics, it’s a song about envy and the weight of expectations that – young or old – we all feel from time to time. If you don’t listen to the lyrics that’s OK too, because the song has a great bassline and a groovy guitar riff as well. So bob your head to the groove, or beweep your outcast state, as the spirit moves you in the moment.

As advertised, the album is an EP and only has five songs, which was not enough new content for me after waiting impatiently for the last two years, but I’ll take what I can get. Fortunately, even after many repeat listens (four in total, and a fifth and sixth as I write this) I never got tired of the songs. Any of these tracks could be radio hits and I am once again flummoxed what it takes to make a hit record in these troubled times. I hope this will do it for the Beaches.

Best tracks: Desdemona, Snake Tongue, Want What you Got

The Concert: February 7, 2020 at the Capital Ballroom, Victoria
This was my second time seeing the Beaches, and after my first experience (reviewed back at Disc 1131) I had high expectations.

Knowing the limited seating at the Capital Ballroom, Sheila and I got there early and staked out our favourite spot up in the mezzanine. Most of our friends prefer the floor (which probably has better sound) but the older I get the less I enjoy being jostled by drunks.

As is tradition at the Capital Ballroom, you can arrive at seven o’clock, but don’t expect to be entertained for an hour or more. It being a school night for me, I bought a single tall can of beer and prepared to wait out the time until the opening band came on.


That band was Hunny, an alternative rock band from California. I had checked out a few songs in advance of the show, but they hadn’t floated my boat, so I was hoping their live show would be better.

As it happened, Hunny turned out to be…OK. Their music reminded me heavily of the Killers, with a bit of Blink 182 thrown in from time to time. Unfortunately, I don’t like either one of those bands. A couple of their tracks mimicked that distinctive Cure guitar sound from the eighties that is “in” with a lot of bands right now. I do like that sound and those tracks were the best of the set, even though there weren’t enough of them.

Hunny was also limited by the venue’s very small stage and the fact that they had to perform around all of the Beaches’ gear. The lead singer had about a two-foot square at the front of the stage to do his thing, and was clearly irritated by this, as anyone would be.

Their bass player also lost his feed for a brief time. Watching him fuss with the outputs and feeds was mildly distracting for me, but probably sheer hell for him. He handled it better than the singer handled the lack of space, although he did at one point confer with the drummer about his plight (who I like to think said something like “I would love to help you out, bra, but I’m totally busy drumming back here”).

The Beaches:

After Hunny departed, and another overlong “please drink more beers” interlude, the Beaches finally took the stage.

Once again, the Toronto quartet did not disappoint, bringing an immediate energy and joy that quickly infected the crowd. The band was a tiny bit looser than I remember them (which is to be expected, given it was the first night of their tour) but it was a very tiny bit and they still sounded great.

The Beaches have great chemistry with both the crowd and with each other. It is clear they like what they do, and they deliver a good mix of impromptu and unscripted dancing and leaping about, along with a couple set pieces where they jump or pose in unison.

They sounded a bit muddy to start the show, but they got the mix right about four songs in and things started to soar.  They played a good mix of early classics, hits from their 2017 album “The Late Show” as well as most of the new EP. It was the exact way I like a live show setlist, and I pretty much heard every song I was hoping for.

The Beaches even threw in a cover of Kylie Minogue’s 2001 smash hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Guitarist Kylie Miller took the lead vocals on this one, making it a “Kylie covers Kylie” moment which I enjoyed. The cover didn’t blow me away, but I always like to hear an odd cover track at a live show and welcomed the surprise.

Main vocalist and bassist Jordan Miller was as brilliant as ever. She’s a gifted frontwoman, who knows how to strike a pose at the right time, and how to walk the line between tough and sexy. Her sister Kylie had some solid moments on the guitar, and while she was really loving the reverb pedal, it never detracted from the songs. Kylie has lots of moves of her own, ranging from “damsel scampers about” to “Goth girl stares wistfully into space.”

My favourite woman in the band was once again keyboardist Leandra Earl, however. Earl has a natural groove to her movement that is infectious, and the way she swaps rhythm guitar and keyboard back and forth so seamlessly (sometimes within a single song) is impressive. She also displayed high kicks that reminded me of the famous Crispin Glover appearance on Letterman, but thankfully minus the unhinged mania.

This being the first show, the band was still finding their footing with their between-songs banter, with Jordan Miller and Earl talking over each other a couple of times in their mutual excitement to tell a story.

The crowd was excellent, being enthusiastic and respectful of both one another and the band. I saw very little in the way of excessive filming or photos, and for the most part hands were in the air only to clap or fist pump, not to block someone’s vision with a fucking iPhone.

I knew early on that the gap by the railing between our table and the table next to us would be filled with someone, and was lucky it ended up being a young couple who squeezed into the space without aggression, and were totally respectful of my sight-lines and personal space.

All in all, it was another great show by the Beaches that leaves me hoping I’ll get a chance to see them again.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I also like the new EP. Yes, it's too bad there aren't more songs, but at least they're all good. Lean.

The ladies still kick ass live. I think they're having fun with the stuff that comes with some success and a headline tour: a tour bus and fancy new light show. I think Capital Ballroom might be one of the smallest venues on their tour (yay!). So, their stuff was kinda crowded onto that stage.