With Those Darlins
Grand Central, Miami
July 10, 2012
Better Than: The second Best Coast?
"I hate the ocean," Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino confessed from Grand Central's stage last night. "I think it's freaky."
Ignore that this is a shock on par with the Archies coming forward as a bunch of diabetics. Her hatred didn't stop Cosentino from taking a dip in in Miami's waters earlier in the day, she said. And music's reigning littoral supremacist's conclusion about Miami?
"You guys are like the best coast of the east coast."
Ding! Ding! Ding! Eat it, west coast of Florida. Breathe through your nose so you don't choke, Outer Banks. Hey, Chesapeake Bay, we just texted a photo of this to your bitch of a boyfriend, the Delmarva Peninsula. More like the Smell-marva Penin-suck-la.
But what about the show itself? Well, forget the criticism of the band's second album, that Jon Brion's more nuanced production left it sounding too glossy and polite. Cosentino's laconic stoner croon is too at peace to really call what Best Coast does garage rock. Live, however, the guitars have more crunch and the drums have more snap than on the breezier studio recordings.
Best Coast drew from both albums and two early singles to make for a relatively seamless set. Most of the variation from recorded material came from Cosentino's partner in Best Coast, Bobb Bruno.
Bobb is a hulking figure who sweats through his heavy metal shirts as the neck of his guitar pitches and yaws. Bruno builds Best Coast's songs by taking Cosentino's guitar and vocal demos and adding the rest of the instrumentation. In concert, he's constantly switching out guitars to vary the tone. He's the one who can give a song a punk edge or the sad slide of early rock melancholy. At times, he seems more into Cosentino's deeply personal songs than she is.
Before the show, he told us, "I just love Bethany's voice and a lot of the things she's singing about, I can relate to in some way. I spend so much time with her on tour. When she's singing about something on tour, I know where it's coming from."
Best Coast's songs are so effortlessly catchy that each one feels like a cover from a favorite mixtape. There's something vague and overlapping about the sound; the songs share common chords and lyrics, but isn't that how life works? Every day isn't really a new grand adventure. More often, it's the same things over and over.
The band's simplicity is deceptive. Take for example a song like "Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To" from their most recent album. It's a mix of stop-start drums, a cutting guitar line, and Cosentino dragging words out into a disinterested wail. According to Bruno, the lyrics shifted between the original demos and the final version.
"The focus used to be more about criticism from people calling us sellouts," Bruno said. "In the end, she and Jon Brion felt the lyrics could be improved on and she went back to work on them. There are some remnants of the original version in there but the new focus takes it to a different place."
Best Coast recast a song about their highly specific professional discontent into a highly relatable relationship song. Making the specific something that's universal and inescapable from the ear is what great pop music is all about.
There's no value in hectoring on about how many times Cosentino sang the words "crazy," "sun," and "fun." You might as well tell an Eskimo that building igloos from ice is getting old and he should really look into expanding his palette.
Best Coast is about the small things feeling like big things solely because they're your things. The songs are about adding some summertime romance to a broken air conditioner and finding sand in your shoes the first time you wear them again after coming home from the beach. Or at least, it can be about that if you want it to be. Maybe it's same-y tripe to you, just in the way some people look out to sea and are faced with the end of the world and others find possibility.
Support act Those Darlins, however, are a totally different animal. It's hard to imagine that anyone would have shouted, "Show me your tits!" to Cosentino the way they did to Those Darlins.
There's something very threatening to old-world masculinity in Those Darlins. The group is fronted by two undeniably beautiful women who sing about the discomfort of being the objects of desire. Whereas Best Coast deals in longing and a desire for domestic comfort, Those Darlins invites you in song to a "Funsticks Party": "I'll bring the pussy, you bring the dick."
They see men as things to "pet and hold" and ask, "Why can't I go to sleep at night and dream of only you?" And why the hell not? It's what male-fronted bands have been doing ever since the first electric guitar was slung over a crotch. And so, when Nikki Darlin was asked to show her tits, she gave the only appropriate response: "Show me your tits."
Male drummer Linwood continued for her, ""You know what you need to do to see tits. Come around after the show and you'll find out. Only boys are allowed, no men. You'll become one, though."
It was issued not as a threat, but as a come on, a disorienting piece of gender theater that upended the built-in misogyny that leads us to even need to specify a "female-fronted band" versus just "a band." In a way, Those Darlins are fighting the fight so that groups like Best Coast don't have to.
But back to the show. Those Darlins have ditched the acoustic country punk of their first album and expanded the Tennessee jangle stomp sound from their breakthrough second album, Screws Get Loose. At times, they moved into a kind of swamp disco sound on new songs like "Pet You and Hold You" and the scuzzy end of Tin Pan Alley on "Why Can't I?"
Nikki Darlin spent most of the show on rhythm guitar, peeking out from behind her bangs with one eye. Her arms drip with tattoos. And when she unleashes her voice, it has a low, brassy sultriness that pushes against lead guitarist and primary vocalist Jessi Darlin's sneering, drawling croak.
Jessi wore a sequined unitard with fishnet stockings. Her guitar seems bigger than she is when she climbs amps and struts during her solos. She bugs her eyes out in a parody of typical guitar hero posturing and doesn't shave her underarms in a subversion of her spangled femininity.
The songs are great, the show rocks, but they're also doing something important. Their next album is being produced by R.E.M. producer Scott Litt and it's likely to get them their most attention yet. It will be interesting to see what aspect of the band they choose to play up: their straight ahead rock gusto or their transgressive line-kicking.
From left: Linwood, Jessi, Some Dude, Nikki.
Critic's Bias: I'm a bigger-is-better sort. So I have to give "Best Coast" honors to Canada, the world's longest coastline, even if much of it is kind of lame. (Worst Coast: Monaco, BTW.)
The Crowd: Groups of sunkissed girls in vintage dresses alongside couples that will register at Anthropologie. Someone brought a puppet of Snacks the Cat and a sign holder (gender indeterminate) alerted the world that "Bethany: I'm Pregnant. It's Yours." At the end of the show, Costentino held up the cat puppet and used it to thank the crowd, finally making a wish for her cat to talk come true.
How Does Florida's Humidity Affect Bethany Cosentino's Hair?: "It makes my hair, like, the most big."
Everything Works Out in the End: During the encore break, an audience member filched Cosentino's drink from the stage. She returned in confusion: "You stole my drink? All you had to do was ask."
Fortunately, a fifth of booze was promptly rushed to the stage and the band each took pulls from the bottle, Bobb's being the most heroic. Those curious about internal band hierarchy may find worth in noting the order in which the bottle was passed: Bethany, Bobb, Bassist, Drummer.
Best Coast's Setlist:
-"Crazy For You"
-"The Only Place"
-"When I'm With You"
-"How They Want Me to Be"
-"Why I Cry"
-"Dreaming My Life Away"
-"Let's Go Home"
-"Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To"
-"Something in the Way"
-"I Want To"
-"Sun Was High (So Was I)"
-"When I'm With You"
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-"When the Sun Don't Shine"