Thanks to fortuitous luck (and some sedulous attention to and use of a popular social networking site I call “the f-word”), I had an estimable opportunity to see the inestimable Best Coast perform a set (twice) for a forthcoming television broadcast yesterday.
Since I do not have cable and do not watch much television, I am unfamiliar with KCET’s program Artbound. Yesterday’s performance (or parts of it) will apparently air on the program in about a month.
Best Coast is difficult to describe (if a picture really is worth a thousand words, than a recording must have comparable value, and, in this age of YouTube, Spotify, and the rest of the Internet, recordings are less than a dime a dozen). Frontwoman and songwriter Bethany Cosentino sounds somewhat like the offspring of The Ventures and Dusty Springfield. She and her collaborator (and ex-boyfriend?) Bobb Bruno evidently identify with more recent artists like their touring partners Green Day and No Doubt (relatively decent by today’s standards, for sure, but Best Coast are better than they—refreshingly anachronistic in their own contemporary fashion). In the studio, Best Coast is Cosentino (vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter) and Bruno (multi-instrumentalist). On stage, they are joined by a rhythm section. [This rhythm section may have played on their forthcoming EP, Fade Away (Jewel City), which drops Tuesday.]
After an interminable series of waits at KCET’s Borebank studio, a votary ushered me and roughly fifteen other spectators into a spacious, two-story room (a window overlooked the up-stage right area where staffers looked down on all of us off and on) that had the look and feel of an empty mini-warehouse while the stage quartet finished a soundcheck. (I have been unable to identify the performing rhythm section.) After expecting to hear the forthcoming EP in its entirety, the band actually performed most of it (with a few catalog highlights interspersed among the new material). A director (?) had informed us that the band would perform their set twice and discuss the new songs in between performances. (It worked out that way, more or less, though the surprisingly reticent Cosentino opted to skip most of the talking.)
The band’s equipment was relatively spartan (though they have a fair amount of effects for an “indie” band, with three amply-accoutered pedal boards). A standard, diminutive four-piece “indie” drum kit stood at the back of the room with a reproduction of the cover of the band’s second album and the letter’s C.C. (the drummer’s initials?) covering the bass drum head. One seven-song setlist (see below) was taped next to Cosentino’s effects rack; the band proceeded to play it twice (in a slightly different order). One lone microphone stood in front (the layered, multi-tracked vocals of their recordings are lost live). Each non-drummer had a few electric string instruments on revolving stands (not all of which were used). This reporter was struck by the shabbiness of the instruments (a Squire bass guitar is taking the “back to basics” aesthetic a bit too far), but this band massages opulent, smooth sounds out of their shabby, ragged instruments.
The band and studio crew sorted out some technical difficulties which delayed proceedings even more (“This is like a real Best Coast show,” Cosentino quipped). After an ostentatious off-camera announcement from the director-figure (only the musicians and a roving camera operator appeared on camera), the band started “This Lonely Morning,” the first track on the forthcoming release. Cosentino strummed her favored black Silvertone guitar (as she would for most of the sets) while Bruno played textured, reverb-drenched leads and fills with his Ibanez Gibson Thunderbird copy. The vocals were drowned out by the instruments (especially Bruno’s guitar and the drums) in the live feed (hopefully that will be corrected for broadcast). Consequently, the listening experience reminded heterogeneous music fan (viz., this one) of the instrumental mix of “I Get Around” on The Beach Boys’ box set (or the recording of the monitor mix of KISS’s November 15, 1975 Rockford, IL concert that circulates in the circles of fans with too much time on their hands). Paul Williams (the Crawdaddy founder, not the songwriter) noted of the former that it sounds like a different song from the one most are familiar with, or at least that instrumental aspects and musical motives are apparent that were subtle (or unnoticeable) previously. While I was hearing the new songs for the first time, I thought of Williams’s observation when I heard the old(er) songs from this fascinatingly skewed perspective. Next was the strikingly titled (and written) “Fear of My Identity” (I think this was the tune with the line “I want it to be you but I know that it’s me”—I could not take notes during the taping). Then, Cosentino introduced a song for the first time by informing the tiny audience that they were about to play the title track from their new EP.
Bruno traded his Ibanez for an Evolution for “The Only Place,” the title track to their second album (Mexican Summer, 2012). Cosentino the vocalist worked assiduously to project her lone live voice over the guitars, bass, and drums. It was a different experience from the doubled (and tripled?) harmonies of the album, but she should be commended for eschewing canned backgrounds for the sparse immediacy of a more live sound.
Cosentino didn’t talk much (especially during the first set) and looked somewhat uncomfortable in front of the cameras, but the sound of the performance betrayed none of that. She did tersely note that the next song was about breaking up before starting “I Wanna Know” (also new). The band followed that one with their best-known song, “Boyfriend” (the leadoff track from their 2010 Mexican Summer debut Crazy for You), the lyrics or which perhaps do betray its writer’s insecurities (and the drum intro of which sounds like it is straight out of Springsteen’s “Badlands”—apposite enough as the song is a self-conscious young woman’s badlands).
For the final song, all three of the frontline members switched instruments (two of them for the first time). Cosentino traded her Silvertone for what looked like a cream-colored Telecaster copy (the headstock did not have a logo). Bruno picked up a bass guitar (he apparently plays all of the bass lines on the recordings). The bass player picked up a big Ventura hollow body (which clashed somewhat with the song, most of which was rather raucous). “I Don’t Know How” iterates much of Cosentino’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer in a few short minutes. It is notably (almost mind-numbingly) repetitive (she is a child of her times in that regard), but it has a clever, unorthodox structure that throws a monkeywrench into the standard songwriting formula.
Before the second runthrough, the director asked Cosentino to discuss the songs at length the second time around. “You mean VH1 Storytellers style?” She evidently was not keen on that idea. “I’ll feel it out and see how awkward I feel.” She was slightly more gregarious during the second set. But only slightly.
The not so fearless foursome adroitly performed the songs again to the same level of satisfaction with the same component of instruments. The performances were much the same: Cosentino plucked rhythm guitar; Bruno played his textured leads (there were no solos); the bass player was a bass player; and the drummer attacked his diminutive set with a fierce backbeat and quick fills that were slightly more dexterous than one might expect from a relatively simple band. It was mellifluous, emotive, jangly surf pop, musically ear candy but lyrically meatier, the best of a bygone (and better) era with a millennial spin. This time, Cosentino elaborated on “I Wanna Know”: “This is a song about breaking up with your boyfriend, and his name’s Bobb. It’s about Bobb.” Afterward (introducing “Boyfriend”): “That was about breaking up with your boyfriend. This is about making someone your boyfriend. And then breaking up with him, so you can write a song about that. It’s about Bobb. Actually, they’re all about Bobb.” (If there is more than a little truth to the above, the two should be commended for continuing to work together so effectively.)
Hopefully KCET will air an unedited performance of all seven songs. And if you live on the “best coast” (and, specifically, the southern part of it), there are two opportunities to see the band early next week: they headline a benefit for the Los Angeles Animal Rescue Group at the Fonda Theatre on Monday, October 21 and play at Ameoba Music in Hollywood the following evening.
Friday, October 18, 2013
This Lonely Morning
Fear of My Identity
The Only Place
I Wanna Know
I Wanna Know
I Don't Know How
This Lonely Morning
Fear of My Idenity
The Only Place
I Wanna Know
I Don't Know How