Last night, bone tired after a 10-hour shift at my second job, I mustered the will to check out Beach Slang. They were opening for Minus the Bear, a band I still haven’t heard (yeah, I left once Beach Slang finished their set, don’t give me that look…I’m old). As some of you will recall, I got into Beach Slang in January 2016 after I discovered their first record a few months behind everybody else. You’ll remember I wrote that had I heard it on time; it easily would have been my #1 album of 2015. Beach Slang put out a second album, A LOUD BASH OF TEENAGE FEELINGS, last year that I was somewhat lukewarm about. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t ambush me the same way that first record did. While the songs were all great and the passion was still there, there was very much a “been there, done that” feeling to the proceedings. Before seeing the band last night I was a little worried that perhaps the band wasn’t as good as I thought they were and that maybe that first album was a bit of a fluke. Well, maybe fluke is too strong a word as music fans we all know about the “one hit wonder” phenomenon. Sometimes artists only have one really good album in them; there’s no shame in that. Well, there’s also the “sophomore slump,” which also explains why so many second albums aren’t quite as good as the first ones. Anyway, I don’t think either of these conditions applies to Beach Slang, especially after last night.
The night began when the Californian three-piece band Sand took to the stage. They were a strange band, mixing indie rock with prog flourishes and doom metal-ish riffs. The (very young) audience seemed to titter every time the paunchy, balding bassists banged his head and slapped his bass. I thought they were cool in an unconventional sort of way. The drummer was goofy and did most of the singing (love those singing drummers), and the guitarist was technically great, but a bit lacking on the stage presence. The songs they played were pretty strange, and as I said tended to have heavy riffs and progressive structures. None of the songs they played stood out or were particularly catchy, per say, but I wouldn’t be opposed to hearing more of their music. Once Sand finished their set, the venue (or someone) had a “rock and roll comedian” come out and do 5 minutes. I’ve heard of comedy at rock shows but had never witnessed this phenomenon first hand. I was nervous for the guy (whose name escapes me), but he held his own with the standard druggie material. After he had finished his bit about secretly liking Crocs, Beach Slang hit the stage.
The first thing I noticed was just how odd lead singer James Alex looks. He’s a pretty tall dude, with a huge mop of shaggy hair. He was wearing a blue blazer with a heart patch sewn onto it. The band came out carrying plastic cups, Alex’s had a red liquid that he proclaimed was vodka and cranberry juice. Immediately I noticed the band’s guitarist was a chick. Beach Slang’s last tour imploded last year when their former guitarist Ruben Gallego was accused of sexual assault. Ultimately, both Gallego and drummer JP Flexner were let go from the band following an explosive concert in Salt Lake City. James Alex comes across as a pretty thoughtful, caring guy and when the news of the assault allegations hit he seemed genuinely upset. The fact that he replaced Gallego with Aurore Ounjian, a woman, surprised me–though I shouldn’t have been surprised Alex’s way more progressive in his thinking than the typical indie rocker. I expected the band to give a dashed off, slightly crappy performance if I’m honest. Not because Beach Slang come across as though they’d be shitty live, but because Alex seems to worship Paul Westerberg and The Replacements. The Replacements were extremely notorious for the quality of their live gigs, which often devolved into drunk messes.
Much to my surprise, and delight, Beach Slang put on a stellar performance. Despite being the evenings middle act, Beach Slang came out and acted as though they were headlining. There were friendly chats with the audience, an impromptu cover of the Oasis classic “Wonderwall,” and zany stage antics (falling to the floor and spewing vodka cranberry juice all over the stage, playing the opening riff of “Smooth” whenever Alex said “it’s a hot one”). Alex was manic and full of playful energy as the band blasted through their best songs. I really enjoyed hearing “Porno Love” and “Ride the Wild Haze” from the first album live. Songs from the new album also came off really well including the Replacements-like “Spin the Dial.” They closed their set with “Atom Bomb” a song I didn’t really care for very much when I heard it on the new album. Played live, however, the track’s furious energy clicked with me and I came away with a new found sense of respect for the song. Besides the before mentioned cover of “Wonderwall,” the band also did a killer cover on The Pixies classic “Where is my Mind?”
Not only did Beach Slang sound about as good live as they do on their albums, but they managed to successfully walk the tightrope between super-fun and while singing gut-wrenchingly earnest rock songs. Alex wears his heart on his sleeve (besides on his blazer) and his music touches on serious topics like isolation and confusion. He writes music that comforts his fans and speaks to them in ways I haven’t seen an artist do in a long time. There’s something tragic in the music of Beach Slang, and I fully expected this concert to be a bit of a self-serious bummer. I was glad to see how goofy and cheerful Alex was, but I can’t help but think the silly ruffled shirt and mop of sweaty rocker hair is hiding some incredibly dark stuff. I was ultra tired when I went to the venue but left floating on a cloud of optimism fueled from seeing a passionate artist connect with his fans. I can’t wait to re-listen to both albums this week and hope I get a chance to see Beach Slang again–perhaps even in a headlining slot.