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Live Review: Best Coast

April 5, 2013

“Do you remember rock ‘n roll radio?” The Ramones, Jan and Dean and MBV? It seems that Best Coast does. But, perhaps more importantly, lead singer Bethany Cosentino recalls the storied ’90s sitcom Martin. After noting that her reference to Martin Lawrence’s Fox program might be a bit old for a majority of people at the all ages show at the Ottobar on Tuesday night, she recommended—nay, insisted—that everyone get an education, go home and watch it in its entirety. Martin, as an unexpected source of nostalgic inspiration, is precisely what makes Best Coast alluring, and their performance at the Ottobar hinted at cultural ephemera that spanned decades, but, which, in a live setting, seemed to be filtered through the grunge aesthetic of the 1990s. And while I, and the majority in attendance, found the alchemical concoction of influences intoxicating, I can’t say with any conviction that the band’s performance had more than a placebo effect on believers. Thankfully, placebos feel great.

Perhaps the stage was set by locals Crimson Wave and Dead Mellotron—who recalled “EVOL”/“Sister” era Sonic Youth and Slowdive, respectively—but the evening struck me as 20-somethings recalling, or re-imagining, their youth. In “I Want To” from Best Coast’s 2010 debut, Cosentino sings, “I want to go back to the first time, the first place” over a nearly ’80s hardcore punk paced coda, the sort of punk Nirvana would deliver with aplomb. It seemed no surprise that the crowd at the Ottobar jettisoned the usual sing-along response of the evening for a tentative mosh pit. “I Want To” directly addresses Best Coast’s essential theme of loss and anxiety over connecting to someone you will lose in a manner more blunt than the anthems of desire and confusion represented by the evening’s sing-along hits “Boyfriend” and “Crazy for You”.

Not only do Best Coast’s lyrics address loss, but the band also audibly recalled the loss of past musical eras with the reverbed-out ‘60s vibe of the songs from their debut, and the twangy polish of mid-’70s country present on The Only Place. Live, the songs benefited from Cosentino’s soured grungy vocal bite and strong voice, but the real showcase of the evening was the breadth of lead guitarist Bobb Bruno. On the titular track from 2012’s The Only Place, Bruno was able to merge the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” picking that R.E.M. perfected at a hardcore BPM with the tone of Hüsker Dü. When called upon to make alien guitar noises akin to the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby,” Bruno was more than up to the task and seemed a veritable Wikipedia portal of Alternative Rock Guitar throughout the evening.

Concertgoers were also treated to two tantalizing new songs prepared for the Record Store Day single “Fear Of My Identity.” The songs tapped into the existential doubt of Best Coast’s second album which combined well with the thematically appropriate scuzz aesthetics of the band’s earlier work.

In someone’s recollection of a favorite TV show—let’s say Martin—the scuzz of memory can conceal and adapt according to the demands of a present situation. With Best Coast the dirt and scum of reverb and distortion give the listener a distance from the upbeat, pop vocals. The band’s sound demonstrates how memory allows the reconciliation of two conflicted purposes. If a listener requires memories of the vocal melodies of Bethany Cosentino, or if the listener desires the vocal’s turbulent context, they can focus on the disorienting, time traveling guitar of Bobb Bruno. Best Coast seem to be saying, “There’s always scuzz, sometimes it just fits together so well you just miss it.” Cosentino may be referring to this feeling in her constant reference to “haze.”

As good as their performance at the Ottobar was, what is ultimately lost in this hazy fetishization of the past is the opportunity that the future presents. Things do not have to be as they were. Let’s hope a band as capable of effective melodies and effective moods as Best Coast continues to strive towards the things they seem to fear to desire and not toward the depressed safety of the nostalgia they both praise and recontextualize so well.

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  • Anonymous

    i saw a tv appearance maybe letterman maybe fallon and i thought they were dreadful