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Review: Beach House finally played a venue as haunting as its music

Review: Beach House finally played a venue as haunting as its music
Beach House, the duo of Alex Scally, left, and Victoria Legrand, were in peak form at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday, the first of two sold-out nights there. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Look, obviously these shows, with such an inspired pairing of performer and venue, were going to sell out.

Beach House, a rock duo known for its haunting melodies and astral glide, playing two consecutive nights at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place of glamorous legends such as Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B. DeMille and punk rocker Johnny Ramone?

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On Friday, for the first of two sold-out performances at the fabled burial ground, Beach House finally found a backdrop as otherworldly as the music it has been crafting for more than a decade.

Victoria Legrand anchored Beach House on lead vocals Friday.
Victoria Legrand anchored Beach House on lead vocals Friday. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Seven studio albums in as Beach House, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have carved out a particular niche in modern rock with few peers, still committed to the original vision they laid out on their eponymous 2006 debut.

So committed, in fact, that their music — a kaleidoscopic swirl of Legrand’s murky croon and pulsating synths overlaid onto the cosmic glow of Scally’s guitar lines — is often undersold. A common diss is that Beach House hasn’t evolved much, if at all, since that first album.

Not quite. The Baltimore-based band’s shifts have been neither seismic nor glacial, but rather measured and thoughtful. They’ve expanded their palette not unlike a painter subtly adding new hues, one at a time, while keeping the base intact.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with its silhouetted palm trees swaying overhead amid dusky skies, was a kindred setting for “7,” Beach House’s latest album on longtime label Sub Pop. The new songs washed over the sea of concertgoers, many of whom were camped out on the grassy lawn with picnics, like a soundtrack for a hazy summer night. (The mood spilled over into the concession stands, too; for $15, you could sip Glowing Lemons and Sazerac Bloom, specialty cocktails named after the band’s music.)

And the silhouettes weren’t emanating just from the palm trees, either. Much of Beach House’s 90-minute set was cast in shadows, with Legrand, Scally and superb drummer James Barone showing up as inky outlines against the candy-colored light design — deep cobalt blue for “Lazuli,” twinkling night skies and flickering strobes during “Dark Spring” and psychedelic spirals for “Lemon Glow.”

That you could hardly see them, let alone their faces (which was a shame, since Legrand was rocking some serious KISS-inspired eye makeup), was intentional. Legrand and Scally are rarely the focal points of a live performance, because Beach House has always been more of an experience, a journey into sound, atmosphere and visuals.

Legrand’s hair, oddly enough, is usually a good barometer for how much the band is cutting loose. She’s been known to hurl her mane like she’s headbanging at a metal show. She’s also a reluctant belter who often keeps the big money notes in the reserves; when she unleashes them, though, stand back.

Friday night wasn’t the occasion for much of that. She, Scally and Barone were mostly stationary as they slow-burned through a broad swath of Beach House’s catalog, giving a good taste of its latest album (“Drunk in L.A.,” “L’Inconnue”) and fond trips down memory lane (“Master of None,” “Walk in the Park”).

Victoria Legrand was often seen in silhouette at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday night.
Victoria Legrand was often seen in silhouette at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday night. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Typical of its live shows, Beach House sounded much like what you hear on record. And that’s exactly what fans want and expect. There’s catharsis in familiarity and knowing what you’ll get.

The shimmering, opening chords of “Myth” sent ripples of “Oooh!” over the crowd, and “10 Mile Stereo” kicked into overdrive right on cue, its chorus finally unhinging to let Legrand wail while Scally and Barone briefly — and gloriously — went off the rails.

They closed out the night with “Dive,” the hardest-charging song from “7.” Its metamorphosis captured Beach House in full bloom: a gentle rev-up that eventually spun out in a machine-gun spray of jagged rhythm.

A fleeting moment of visceral emotion, it ushered Beach House right back into the shadows, a fade to black. It was time for the silhouetted palm trees to take center stage again.

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