Best Coast review – pussy, cats and flaps (eats, shoots and leaves mk II?)

BEST COAST

London, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

20 June, 2012

Sometimes, when you go see a band and don’t fully know their repertoire – in this case, my working knowledge of Best Coast is mostly centred around When I’m With You (which holds a soppy significance for me) – most of the evening’s proceedings tend to bleed homogenously into one another. As all around you leap about enthusiastically while grabbing your arm (as you’re trying to write) and going: “Yay! It’s this one!”, you’re left scratching your head (with your other free arm) wondering why you hadn’t realised the previous song had ended.

In the case of Best Coast – and this should in no way be read as negative – I feel like I know virtually every song. I had to issue the negativity disclaimer here because that’s the sort of statement you could direct at the armies of generic indie rubbish currently running amok and generally diluting the musical gene pool.

With Best Coast, what you’re hearing is the hook of the instant classic. Not in a copyist way – this band just has a certain knack for the catchy tune. It’s more like a clever invention – the simplest and smartest ones just seem so obvious when they’re discovered, leaving you with the vague notion that, even though they weren’t born, they somehow always existed.

That’s right: Best Coast are the catflap of music.

And speaking of pussy coming and going as it pleases, frontwoman Beth Consentino saunters onto the stage (not through a catflap) like she’s strolling into her own living room – to be confronted by a thousand gawping faces.

“What’s up, London?” she hollers. London apparently doesn’t know, preoccupied as it is with mass dribbling. Yes, some women too.

Throughout her (mostly stationary) performance, Consentino nevertheless seems to elicit a sense of reverence and attentiveness – so much so that, incredible as it may seem in times of youtubular hells, we are seeing a distinct lack of phone-recording action. Could it be that this band’s subliminal quality inspires first-hand experience, something no amount of crappy-sounding, badly shot footage can impart? Or perhaps such a retrospective sound as Best Coast’s is more palatable to Luddites?

Whatever, absence of LCD displays equals good. And for the record, the chorus of my special song does not contain the lyrics “When I’m with you I have phone” either. Yeah, you could say I’ve got hang-ups.

And speaking of hooks, latest album The Only Place is given almost its full airing tonight, and the immediacy of the new tracks is a palpable thing, viscerally flitting in and around older tracks like dangerously nostalgic butterflies attacking summer’s lightbulb.

In fact, hold that image – for while Best Coast’s sunshine pop dreaminess continues to illuminate their core, dappled pools of shadow have worked their way onto the Coast’s colour-strewn canvas, like Monet’s male menopause as he bashes out another “Waterwillies”.

Though Consentino’s sun-kissed vocals still perfectly align themselves to guitarist Bobb Bruno’s mournfully nostalgic fretwork, the newer material is darker. And not where you expect, either. For while lonesome ballad No One Like You might have little tugs at the heartstrings with typical mid-set lighter-provoking swoonery, its arrival feels more like an intrusion, as if Consentino has been hijacked by a wedding singer.

Actually, that’s being slightly unfair to a rather lovely track, but here it’s all a bit like a zebra on a zebra crossing – it fits, but it’s practically invisible. And it just gets run over. Because it’s pedestrian.

The real darkness comes from that equine interlude’s subsequent track, How They Want Me To Be, Bruno’s schizophrenic-sounding guitar work hauntingly at odds with itself, weaving out layers of psychedelic hypnotics that would get a snake pissed – truly putting the fret in fretboard, and inducing chills in our perennial plus-one, who holds me tighter because of it (for which I owe Bruno a pint).

It’s an absolute spectre of a song – like the Phantom of the Opera who is, like, not really into opera actually.

More tellingly, and something that really illuminates what Best Coast are about, is that their live sound – even with the older, ostensibly poppier tracks – contains a more echoic, gravitational quality, adding weight to even the most helium-stuffed tunes.

Our Deal, for instance – on tape very much of its time (erm, in a retro sort of way), here transcends its parameters and soars like an epidemic that could infect any generation. Even Consentino’s camp Spinal Tap-like pointing-guitar-neck-at-audience can’t detract from the song’s untrammelled new lease of life.

But what this performance comes down to is how Best Coast, through unveiling new material and evolving the older tracks, have reconciled their past with their present state, and that is the platform that gives them a very promising and sustained future.

What I hadn’t noticed before, and tonight hit me like a slap in the face from someone who’d previously emailed me that they were going to slap me in the face (should have seen it coming, basically), is that this LA-based outfit are the missing link between two other California-bound legends.

Treading the fine line between melancholy, nostalgia and sunshine-infused poppiness – while somehow making all components agreeable – Best Coast unearth how weirdly compatible those apparently paradoxical elements are.

Like the perfect foil betwixt the Beach Boys and Nirvana – who were never as far removed as you might expect – the Coast (to paraphrase a Spinal Tap-ism) are like the lukewarm water upon which those elements happily surf it out.

Just as the Beach Boys’ melancholy was never at the forefront – lurking as it did like the ghost of a happy memory from the last day of summer – so too Nirvana’s own playfulness (yes, happiness can be a warm gun) was often suffused by dark humour that was wrongly taken at face value, instead of with a pinch of sea salt.

And inside this unlikely collusion, Best Coast are doing what many bands are guilty of not doing – creating a niche that can exist in the gulf of their influences, as opposed to hitching a ride on the rickety bandwagon.

And by the end, after a superlative version of Fleetwood Mac’s Storms ­, which – and this is not a common phrase – actually outdoes Stevie Nicks – and a glisteningly nostalgic (for me and Mrs Plus One especially) When I’m With You, it’s obvious why a Best Coast gig, whether you’re conversant with their material or not, is like a catflap in the musical household – so classic it’s obvious, but still it needs discovering.

There are enough bands out there right now still banging their heads against the door, whereas Best Coast coast right on in as if they own the place.

Tonight, they did.

Stephen Brolan

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