Guitar-pop pair Best Coast soar on live-stream from Capitol Records rooftop
A web concert from the rooftop of LA's Capitol Records has lifted rock duo Best Coast to a higher plane
Anyone eager to see Best Coast over the past few months would have done well to look somewhere small. In February, days after revealing that they had completed an album, the Los Angeles-based guitar-pop band played at a number of cosy spots around Southern California, including the Echo in Echo Park and Pappy & Harriet's near Joshua Tree. A few weeks later, Best Coast travelled to Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest festival, where the group knocked out nine cramped gigs in seven days.
The goal for these performances, known as underplays, was to build excitement ahead of California Nights, the band's first major label record after a string of indie efforts. But the shows were also demonstrating that Best Coast - who at their core pairs frontwoman Bethany Cosentino, 28, with guitarist Bobb Bruno, 42 - have outgrown the rooms they used to call home.
"I remember playing the Echo in 2009, just me and Bobb and a MiniDisc as our drummer," Cosentino recallsrecently. Returning to the packed club, now with a muscular five-piece line-up, "was, like, mind blown into infinity".
Best Coast recently did a final underplay to mark the release of California Nights (reviewed here), which came out on May 1 and quickly vaulted towards the upper reaches of the iTunes chart. This time, though, the venue wasn't some hole in the wall - it was the roof of the Capitol Records building in the heart of Hollywood.
Surrounded by cameras, including one mounted on a drone and another live-streaming the performance online, Best Coast blazed through a set of fresh material for an audience of about two dozen people, most of them close to the group personally or professionally. (Harvest Records, the band's label, is a subsidiary of Capitol.) The high point, which Cosentino and Bruno had carefully planned, came when they hit the dreamy title track just as the sun dipped behind the hills that form a kind of psychic landscape in Best Coast's music.
"California nights make me feel so happy I could die," Cosentino sang, and you had no trouble believing her. But then came a bit of pragmatism: "I never wanna get so high that I can't come back down to real life."
On top of it all but somehow grounded - that's Best Coast's position on California Nights, which is poised to expand this band's audience even as it strengthens the bond Cosentino shares with her most devoted fans. The album, Best Coast's third, has the catchy choruses and vivid production required to compete in the big tent of pop radio; the title track has been streamed nearly two million times on YouTube and Spotify. Yet the lyrics grapple with personal themes - romance, disillusionment, the struggle to grow up - in life-like terms that give the music intimacy.
"Beth is someone that everyone wants to be friends with," says Nate Auerbach, who oversees music strategy at the popular blogging platform Tumblr. Last month Auerbach organised a Best Coast concert in Palm Springs as part of Tumblr's IRL (that is, "In Real Life") series, and he says fans can "really relate to what Beth writes about and to how she is on social media. She's just herself, and so they see her and they're like, 'Yes! I can identify with that.'"
Growing up in La Crescenta, California, in the pre-Instagram era, Cosentino didn't communicate with her idols the way she does with Best Coast's fans on the internet. But the intensity with which she felt their music inspired her to start singing and playing guitar, skills she eventually put to use in the arty underground band Pocahaunted. Through that group Cosentino met Bruno, an established figure on LA's indie music scene, and before long they formed Best Coast based on their mutual love of the Beach Boys and '60s girl groups.
The duo won widespread praise for their 2010 debut, Crazy for You, which wrapped winsome melodic hooks in layers of guitar fuzz. With its follow-up, 2012's The Only Place, the band set out to emphasise Cosentino's vocals, dialling down the noise and incorporating more acoustic textures with help from producer Jon Brion, known for his work with Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann. The resulting album sounds great, with echoes of Fleetwood Mac and Patsy Cline. But three years later, Cosentino has mixed feelings about it.
"I was in such a strange headspace while making that record," she recalls several days before the Capitol gig. Sitting at the dining table in her comfortable Eagle Rock home, her cat Snacks curled up on the chair next to her, Cosentino says she wrote the songs in a rush to maintain the band's momentum.
"We got home from touring Crazy for You for almost two years and it was literally like, 'You're going in the studio in a week'," she said. "The songs aren't as strong as they could've been."
For California Nights, the singer was determined to provide space for the everyday existence she writes about so effectively - both in her songs and on Twitter, where she dispenses her thoughts on music, shopping and reality television with appealing candour. "I was just reconnecting with everything I'd forgotten about because I was living the tour life," she says.
At home for an extended period for the first time in years, she also found herself thinking about California, long a focal point in Best Coast's music, in a new way. "It wasn't like it was before, where I'd be like, 'The ocean! The waves! The palm trees'," she says. Instead, she was drawn to the mistrust and cynicism at work in a town so deeply reliant on image.
"The music is very poppy and sunny, which is what everybody sees LA as," she says. "But underneath it's a little grittier and darker."
Indeed, California Nights - with a cover portrait shot at the same Silver Lake residence that appeared in Bret Easton Ellis' classic of West Coast misanthropy, Less Than Zero - strikes an impressive balance between pretty and ugly, as in the blissed-out Heaven Sent, which climaxes with 30 seconds of grinding distortion.
Recorded with producer Wally Gagel, who Bruno says encouraged the band to experiment with their arrangements, the album at times recalls Celebrity Skin, Hole's 1998 ode to the poisoned grandeur of Hollywood. Cosentino agrees with the comparison, saying Celebrity Skin was a "huge influence" on California Nights. Even more than its musical ideas, though, the singer says she admires how that album openly embraced the desire to be heard. Family-and-friends shows over with for now, Best Coast will spend the summer on the road trying to grow their following the old-fashioned way. And though Cosentino is beloved for her accessibility online, she says she's still learning how to navigate in-person interactions with her younger fans.
"They're growing up in the internet age, so there's not a lot of boundaries," the singer says. "After a show, they'll say, 'Why can't you just stop and take a selfie with me?' And I'm like, 'I will, but if you ask to take 900, I'm eventually going to leave.'
"I mean, I'm human. Sometimes I need to get on the bus and put on my pyjamas and decompress."
Los Angeles Times