Beach House with Skyler Skjelset
May 4, 2016 @ The Paramount Theater in Seattle
Words and Photos by Victoria Holt
Originally from Seattle and now residing in Brooklyn, Skyler Skjelset sat alone at a flurry of knobs and wires at the Paramount early this month. He surveyed his options thoughtfully, and then began to tweak knobs, pausing to consider each step. The solo performer thanked the crowd, the Paramount, and Beach House, clearly thrilled to be playing such a gorgeous space.
The giant room did not dwarf his modest setup and meek stage presence; rather, his sweeping orchestra of rippling textures filled the space with warmth and reverie. He added elements piecemeal, slowly curating a wash of sound, like crickets, or wave breaks, or a breeze on grass on a warm night.
Despite disparate fast-paced elements, the overall effect was soothing and thoughtful. Skjelset appeared calculating, precise, and passionate, breathing life into his machinery. The overall result might be called ambient, but Skjelset was rooted, physical, and present, not a touch aloof. Elements churned, scintillated, squeaked, and clicked.
The performance was a seamless 30 minute set, at times inspiring crowd members to yell out in approval or encouragement. For the second half of the set, he extracted a beautiful clear guitar from his side, layering just the right amount of shrill wall-of-sound radiance over the composition. He played the strings delicately and lovingly, leaning into it one moment and throwing his head back the next. It was brooding, yet transcendent. He may as well have been uttering incantations under his breath, casting spells on the unsuspecting audience.
Beach House floated as if in a dream: foggy figures in a purple haze, smocked with a starry background. They were celestial beings swirling in the void, much like Victoria Legrand’s voice, delicate amidst the gravitational swells of Alex Scally’s guitar. Languid beats from a live drummer built slowly, growing ever louder until they crashed over the crowd, as strobe lights bathed the dream in manic, energized light.
Legrand wore a dark hooded robe decorated with gems, reminiscent of Prince’s sparkling robe in a gif that recently circulated. The image shows Prince wearing a purple hood, and, as his head turns, he seems to dissolve into sparkles. The quote accompanying stated, “Prince is immortal. Prince did not die. Prince just turned his back and returned to the universe.” The resemblance and color choice on stage May 4 was particularly poignant with the recent and untimely death.
“How you doing in the balcony?” Legrand asked. “I’d like to sit up there and watch the show.” The balcony cheered as she mimed throwing something up to them. “I just threw myself up there.” Her bandmate added, “Metaphysical baseball.”
“We know there’s a lot of you in here, but we’re trying to get to each and every one of you, in the dark.” There was a pause. “We’re a bunch of pervs.”
The band have been playing a series of “installation” shows alongside their very popular larger gigs, in an effort to recreate the intimacy of their earlier days. These have been held at secret locations, released day-of to ticket holders, and accessible only to a few hundred people. The crowd is encouraged to bring pillows to sit on the ground, and visual wonders abound, as the band perform inside an art structure they created.
It’s clear that Beach House prefer smaller crowds and authenticity, and though their stage banter is charismatic, it’s definitely subdued. Scally often ends songs on his knees, giving himself up completely to the revelry he creates, and Legrand leans low into her keyboard, throwing her head back periodically in a blur of hair. Audience members flock to the Baltimore band’s shows not to see rock stars, but to close their eyes, singing and crying along. They’re looking for experiences which transcend personalities and characters.
Full photo set on our Flickr page:
(Originally from San Francisco, CA, Seattle photographer Victoria Holt has contributed work to The Stranger, The Seattle Weekly, The Capitol Hill Times, and online with KEXP, Seattle Music Insider, and Live Music Blog. Her 2012 BFA thesis, “Seattle DIY: Live Music,” has exhibited at various venues in the Seattle area, and offers an in-depth exploration of six “Do-It-Yourself” underground spaces. For a behind the scenes look at music, she shoots in-studio performances at local radio station KEXP.)