Live Review: Best Coast
“Do you remember rock ân 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 Lawrenceâs Fox program might be a bit old for a majority of people at the all ages show at the Ottobar on Tuesday night, she recommendedânay, insistedâthat 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 canât say with any conviction that the bandâs performance had more than a placebo effect on believers. Thankfully, placebos feel great.
Perhaps the stage was set by locals Crimson Wave and Dead Mellotronâwho recalled âEVOLâ/âSisterâ era Sonic Youth and Slowdive, respectivelyâbut the evening struck me as 20-somethings recalling, or re-imagining, their youth. In âI Want Toâ from Best Coastâs 2010 debut, Cosentino sings, âI want to go back to the first time, the first placeâ 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. âI Want Toâ directly addresses Best Coastâs 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 eveningâs sing-along hits âBoyfriendâ and âCrazy for Youâ.
Not only do Best Coastâs lyrics address loss, but the band also audibly recalled the loss of past musical eras with the reverbed-out â60s 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 Cosentinoâs 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 2012âs The Only Place, Bruno was able to merge the âSweetheart of the Rodeoâ picking that R.E.M. perfected at a hardcore BPM with the tone of HĂźsker DĂź. When called upon to make alien guitar noises akin to the Beach Boysâ âDonât Worry Baby,â 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 âFear Of My Identity.â The songs tapped into the existential doubt of Best Coastâs second album which combined well with the thematically appropriate scuzz aesthetics of the bandâs earlier work.
In someoneâs recollection of a favorite TV showâletâs say Martinâthe 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 bandâs 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 vocalâs turbulent context, they can focus on the disorienting, time traveling guitar of Bobb Bruno. Best Coast seem to be saying, âThereâs always scuzz, sometimes it just fits together so well you just miss it.â 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. Letâs 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.