When Best Coast’s frontwoman Bethany Cosentino waltzed up center stage, dirty blonde ringlets a flux and fashioning an adorable scalloped white romper, it was hard not to swoon. Oakland’s Fox Theater swarmed with young people who had just finished the last long days of the semester, brimming with anticipation for the surf-pop band to set the summer mood. When the valley girl’s delightful voice drawled out, it felt like a sip of ice-cold pink lemonade, able to cool even the worst heartbreaks and the loneliest adolescent misery.
But there is only so much angst you can take in one night. The Los Angeles-based group made such a charmingly fuzzy statement with their debut album, “Crazy for You,” by overlaying their tracks with simple words of earnest longing and basic chord changes played in reverb. Each song seemed to be dedicated to a specific type of heartache, making the entire album easily identifiable for anyone who has experienced unrequited love.
Their sophomore album, “The Only Place” was recorded at Capitol Studios with renowned record producer, Jon Brion. The recording strains to grow up by losing the sonic imprecision, yet ends up sounding dull and robotic because of the erosion of their original lyrical personality.Their performance weaved in songs from both albums, and was executed with sharply fine-tuned instrumentals instead of their former lo-fi flair. What was revealed in clear focus, then, were their rather static musicianship, reluctance to experiment through natural improvisation and a failure to uniquely personalize their performance.
Beside the brief shout outs by Cosentino to the herb smokers in the pit, the members appeared to be merely going through the motions of performing. The authentic elements of a live show such as spontaneous riff changes, multiple voice modulations distinct from the recording, and an overall impression that the musicians are thoroughly excited to be entertainers were absent — ultimately making the paying audience feel cheated.
The steadily low energy was dampened even more by the confines of an indoor venue. Best Coast’s songs started sounding like a broken record. Each song was all too similar to the last, and the performance felt like a hollow shell — albeit an electric yellow and magenta light-filled shell.
The cyclical nature of the lyrics, which often involve Cosentino’s honest stream of questions to herself, should feel more like a pleasant medley of swirling sounds that engulf you in a blissful narcotic haze — a potential which could have been better reached if enjoyed while relaxing on a field of cool grass at a festival, or even at home, laying down in bed.
The best was certainly saved for the last, as the five-song encore included crowd favorites, “Sun Was High (So Was I),” “When I’m With You,” and “Boyfriend,” ending the night with Best Coast as we remembered them.
The band seems to be in a limbo. They’re evolving as fast as possible away from being typecast as a garage-rock group and this effort to expand is commendable. But for a band that gained their original attention and captured the flurried hearts of their listeners by singing about the basic concept of earnest longing, Best Coast doesn’t seem too convincing anymore. They traded their charming imperfections to polish up with bigger contracts and secure a clothing collaboration with Urban Outfitters — and that’s all fine. But hopefully in between all that, they won’t forget to salvage their roots.