Beach House Plays Exclusive 'Installation' Show to 200 People Sitting on the Floor

Photos were forbidden, but they can't take away my mediocre drawing skills! (Photo: Emmanuel Hapsis)

The first time I saw Beach House was at the Swedish American Music Hall, in 2008. The space was cozy and intimate. There were folding chairs. I was able to snag a seat front-row center, where Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally brought their dreamy, otherworldly sound to life, and me to tears (albeit, with the help of a generous helping of whiskey). I've seen them five times since, and there's a reason behind this devotion; few other musicians inspire such a full-body fever dream response. A few songs in and I transform into that weirdo who's alone in a crowd, swaying and smiling with his eyes closed.

These days, word has gotten out about Beach House and their powerful live shows. The venues are bigger and the magic is spread more thinly. So it was exciting to hear the band announce their latest experiment: six "installation" shows to take place in art galleries, community centers and other alternative venues, featuring no backup band, a mysterious "design," and songs mostly culled from their first two albums (which don't get much play on their traditional tours) and their latest.

But there are conditions: Only 200 people will witness each show. Those lucky enough to snag a ticket are advised to bring a pillow, because everyone sits on the floor. Once you're inside the space, you're there for the duration. No applause. No photos.

So what's the point of all this? According to the band, the project's purpose is to recapture the "pure, embryonic state of mind" that comes with the initial spark of inspiration, but that gets lost somewhere between pre-studio conception and the stage.

Most people who showed up at the Mission District's Gray Area Theater to see what all this fuss is about were down for whatever might be coming, actual pillows from their beds in tow. We were led into a former, gutted theater, the only illumination coming from a multi-colored horizontal bar of light at the bottom of the stage. People stepped over each other in the dark to find a spot to sit. We all huddled together and waited.

Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. (Photo: Sub Pop)
Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. (Photo: Sub Pop)

When showtime finally came, the smoke machines did their work and Legrand and Scally took the stage, although it was easy to miss them in the dark. Eventually, it became clear that a screen separated the duo from the audience. They began to project images of a variety of flowers and live footage onto themselves. Two display cabinets on either side lit up with rows of fiber-optic flowers. The distress over not being able to Instagram any of it was palpable. The entire spectacle made me regret giving up weed years ago.

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As for the music, the band relied heavily on their first and last albums. The night began with "Saltwater," the first track on their debut, and ended with "Somewhere Tonight," the last track on their most recent release, as if the point of the whole evening was to find their way back to their origins and remind themselves why they're in this band in the first place. The cramped space and smaller number of fans underscored this trip back in time, back to that Swedish American Hall show in 2008, before Beach House songs found themselves in flashy car commercials.

The sense is that, when you reach a certain level of fame, you lose control. The band no longer belongs to themselves, but to the masses who've latched onto their music. This project felt like their way of pressing the reset button and taking back what's rightfully theirs. No backing band, no sea of iPhones Snapchatting away, no audience participation -- just the two of them making the music they love, as if they were back in their mid-aughts bedrooms, with no one on the other side of the screen.

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After they left the stage, the 200 fans clapped and hollered for several minutes, in an attempt to prove that we deserved an encore. "Just one song, please!" begged one dude. A man working the event eventually came on the mic to say, "We appreciate your enthusiasm, but the show is over." More evidence that this "installation" show was less about Beach House giving something to the fans, and more about taking something back.

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