An out-of-character heat wave in Madison, Wisconsin, joined forces with the historic Majestic Theatre to create the perfect summer storm for the perfect summer band: California’s Best Coast, fronted by Beth Cosentino. Originally conceived as a two-piece with Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, the duo added two more instrumentalists to help fill out their live show. The venue, divided between standing room and tables, was packed despite not selling out.
After an energy-filled twang-meets-post-punk set from openers, Those Darlins, Cosentino and company took the stage in front of a banner that displayed the album artwork from their current record, The Only Place. Dressed for the weather in a black cropped top and red flowered skirt, Cosentino seemed initially a bit reserved as she took the stage, even as the band played their hit “Crazy for You”. Strobe lights served as an unexpected touch for this low-key surfer pop band. However, as the band rolled seamlessly into “Goodbye”, the vocals were impressively warm for it being so early in the show.
Chatter was initially minimal, with Cosentino simply introducing song titles – the first time she spoke was to introduce “Last Year” and indicate it was from the newest record. As they breezed through the next few songs, she remained detached and withdrawn from the crowd, not making a lot of eye contact or seeming too enthused about the music. The crowd seemed like they didn’t notice or care though, and during “The Only Place”, Madison’s mighty lakes were temporarily transformed into roaring wave-filled oceans. The band seemed to feed off the energy of that current summer anthem and perked up a bit.
When Cosentino swapped her guitar for a bass to play “How They Want Me to Be”, the crowd was delirious for a new sound. “I wake up in the morning or the middle of the night / I look at you and I know it’s alright / Cause you don’t want me to be / How they want me to be,” she intoned sweetly, drawing out the romance in this ballad. But it wasn’t enough for the crowd to have seen Cosentino, as people began to chant “Bobb! Bobb! Bobb!” when Cosentino suggested Bruno introduce himself. Bruno spoke briefly to the crowd before the band launched into “Why I Cry”. Then it was the crowd’s turn to chant for Beth, for which she thanked them.
Cosentino played a long guitar intro before “Our Deal” that mined the true sadness inherent in the song: “I wish you would tell me / How you really feel / But you’ll never tell me / ‘Cause that’s not our deal.” Cosentino was most lively during the encore, during which she speculated that everyone in attendance was drunk, and asked for all drunk people to raise their hands after saying that one drunk can always recognize another. Four songs comprised the encore, leaving the show to finish just over an hour after it began, as the band closed with the infectious “Boyfriend”.
As fun as the concert was, even the most die-hard Best Coast fans would agree that there wasn’t much difference in hearing the songs live and listening to the album. Especially since the band’s particular brand of surf-pop mandates that a certain aesthetic informs much of their music, some fans may have wished that the band deviated more from their recorded sound.
This band could have accomplished this effect in myriad ways. Simple changes in lighting, for instance, would have made individual songs stand out more. On a more elaborate note, the inclusion of more covers or new arrangements of existing songs would have made the live experience differentiate more from the recorded one. Perhaps it would also be nice to see the band strip down to Cosentino and Bruno for a couple of songs as well. It’s unlikely that the band would take these kinds of risks, especially just two albums deep into their career, but it would be a nice change from a live show that could easily get stale. Given the amount of applause that greeted the simple act of Cosentino taking up the bass for one song, it’s hard to believe Best Coast fans would have any complaints about a little experimentation.