When you go to see a show, it’s easy to forget it’s a shared experience between the audience, the band, and the venue. The former two are obvious, but the latter plays an important role.
Sure, you always go to see the band. That’s the art you want to take in and experience, stirring that inner fandom. It’s also easy to remember the audience because after ever song they are there cheering (or in extremely bad situations, talking through every song). This interaction between the band and audience is the social experience that has made live performance special for thousands of years.
The venue, though, is an important piece that is often forgotten in the evaluation. I would assess that this is because if the venue is doing things right, it fades into the background and becomes one with the band and the fans. Nobody wants the venue to be a distraction. No critic wants the venue to become part of the story. I’ve done it before and it does not feel good. This is another one of those reviews.
Let’s start with the positive before getting bogged down in the negative, because Beach House sounded flawless on this warm Tennessee evening. Their setlist skewed toward material from Teen Dream forward to Depression Cherry (sorry, no new Thank Your Lucky Stars jams at this show), and the quality of Beach House’s entire discography. I’m not the biggest Depression Cherry fan (which the setlist was weighted slightly toward, as expected because it’s the new album), but the craft of the band’s songwriting and aural aesthetic throughout their career was undeniable through performance.
Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand reminded us during the encore (the first song was “Saltwater,” off their debut) the band has been around a long time. While Beach House certainty has their influences (Spiritualized and Galaxy 500 come to mind), they seem to have influenced countless other bands over their extensive career. For better or worse, I can’t help but hear a lot of Beach House in bands like Real Estate, Purity Ring, and Chvrches (all of which were formed far after Beach House coming together in 2004). Beach House is celebrated, but dangerously close to being taken for granted. They shouldn’t, because they’re too good for that shit.
This live performance just cemented the importance of Beach House in my mind and demonstrates they are elevated far above the status of other much talked about bands. The craftsmanship of their songs in combination with the execution live was peerless. They were loose without being sloppy, musically in-sync without being too rigid. It was the perfect balance with the perfect sound.
That sound was facilitated by the Ryman Auditorium, “The Mother Church of Country Music”. It’s widely celebrated as an incredible venue for a reason – it’s beautiful and the acoustics sound great. Bands are understandably excited to play the venue (Beach House included) for a multitude of reasons and as a patron, and member of the press, so was I. I was in town on vacation and wanted to cover a show at the Ryman and it ended up working out that there was a band I wanted to see. Obviously as a Beach House fan and a music nerd, I was excited.
It lived up to expectations on all fronts, except how the staff treated the attendees.
I’m not sure if it was general policy of the venue or under directives of the band, but there were unreasonable policies in place and enforced by jackbooted ushers and security.
I won’t belabor this first point, because it’s more of my problem than the audience in general, but pre-show security/house staff threatened to take my photographers camera and kick her out of the venue if her camera was even out after the third song (Background: It’s common practice for professional photographers to be limited to the first three songs with no flash photography. It’s not a big deal and this is common place.). Once again, I won’t belabor, but this is bullshit and you don’t threaten my photographer BEFORE the show, when she’s shown no propensity to doing anything wrong.
Where the real issues came in was just general enforcement of undefined policies. Apparently no cell phones were allowed to be out at this show at all. That was news to me because there were signs for no flash photography or video recording, but nothing about you can’t have your phone out. But once again, when an usher threatens to kick me out or take my phone when I’m using it to take notes on the performance (as a member of the press, in seats that were all press) for this article, this is bullshit.
Please don’t take this as ‘I’m press and more important’ garbage. This is 2015 and the internet/social media is how people interact. People SHOULD be able to tweet ‘AW SHIT THEY’RE PLAYING “MYTH” DYYYYYYYINNNNNGGGGGG *skull emoji*’. I fully understand the idea of not looking at your screen and enjoying the performance, but if you want to text someone or express yourself on social media in any way, this isn’t RUINING anyone’s concert-going experience. I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my life at a variety of venues and I’ve never once thought a show was ruined by too many phones out. If I’m locked into the performance, I’m locked in.
The tipping point was mid-show when Legrand encouraged fans to stand up and dance. In her voice there was trepidation on what the rules in the venue were, but she said she’ll take the fault if people are not allowed to get up out of the church pews they were planted in. Eventually some people did, swinging and swaying with the music. All was good, until fans in the seats closest to the stage stood and congregated near the stage (and their own seats). HERE COME THE USHER STORM TROOPERS IN TO SAVE THE DAY. They sent everyone back to their seats, making a public display of their asshole enforcement policies. Beach House wanted people to let loose and treat it a little less like church and more like a fun show. I guess it’s your bad, Victoria. That’s awesome.
The Ryman apparently knows better than the artist/audience of how people should have fun.
A writerly writer guy who writes about music, basketball and writing. He now writes here, but has written other places too. He also writes for a big fancy company as his 9-5. Writing, writing, writing. If you want to read his basketball writing (or listen to his podcasting, which isn’t writing but you know).