Granada Theater, Dallas
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Bethany Cosentino has cultivated one of the most beloved personas in the alternative music world, but it's been a good while since we've seen it come through in full clarity. The main exception these days for the Best Coast singer is her consistently wonderful Twitter feed — as fans, it's probably the closest we'll get to her true self outside of 2010's still-potent Crazy for You. Live shows are good for resurrecting that personal touch, which has been less present (if not entirely missing) on Best Coast's last few releases; in all-too-fleeting glimpses, we caught sight of it at Granada Theater last night.
"This is why I don't talk at shows anymore," Cosentino said late in the evening, after a few sentences of endearingly awkward mumbles at the mic. She was echoing a recent message she sent out to her Twitter followers via the iPhone Notes app, a good two and a half pages responding to complaints about the more reserved stage demeanor she's deployed this tour. The brunt of the note was a polite request for them to let her interact with audiences the way she sees fit, as she grows into someone different than the 23-year old "Bratty B" that first captured our attention. Seems like a reasonable request.
But aside from those specifically referenced who presumptuously declared that she must have been sad or mad, or used the word "bitchy," there might be something to the idea. After all, her fan base is so devoted at least in part because she specializes in packaging relatable thoughts of young adult life in simple verse, as exemplified by early favorite "The Goodbye": "I lost my job/I miss my mom/I wish my cat could talk."
These alienated fans are likely reacting to a perceived trend. Cosentino's early songs stumbled their way into art by embracing feelings unadorned, without overthinking; she put romantic dysfunction in a mundane setting to emphasize the smallness of the concerns that occupied her mind. There was an unavoidable self-awareness to it all. Their newest effort, California Nights, aims at a higher, heavier plane that can become exhausting over the course of a full-length album, and it lessens the focus on her first-person POV in favor of guitar effects and moody soundscapes. As such, it's an interesting Best Coast record but a fairly pedestrian one in general, the opposite of fan service but still not guaranteed to win new converts.
In the case of the Granada show, the distinct personalities of Best Coast's albums blurred into homogeny — it served as a blessing and a curse, relieving the newer material of production choices that hamper their effectiveness but also fixing their "indie classic" early entries in the specific trappings of their current aesthetic. There were recognizable standout moments of course, including Fade Away's Sheryl Crow-worthy "I Don't Know How" (which I'd never really noticed before) and California Nights' album-opener "Feeling OK," both of which stand up with their best songs. I also appreciated the show's beginning, "The Only Place," which made clear Cosentino was happy to be there serenading us even though the friendly jokes between songs are no longer a part of her standard operating procedure.
But even with the help of Cosentino playing a tambourine, I can't help but compare Best Coast to bigger and better options out there. We don’t need to rehash criticisms of The Only Place and California Nights to acknowledge a difference between this catalog and, say, Jenny Lewis' in terms of consistency. There's a Spotify playlist of best moments lurking in there somewhere, slightly different for every listener, that could fill an hour-plus pretty impressively, but last night didn't quite provide the dazzling template some live shows manage to curate.
In all likelihood, it wasn't the way Cosentino personally chose to handle the spotlight that made me occasionally think of things like The Tonight Show, where pop/rock's guests of the moment wrap their songs in a cultural safety blanket that always makes me uncomfortable. It's a good bet the culprit was opening act Bully, whose brand new album Feels Like has already drawn praise in The New York Times, and who began the evening with almost-Nirvana-level grunge. Alicia Bognanno and her cohort of no-frills players conquered the stage in a workmanlike fashion akin to the headliner's, but of a different kind. You can't fake that hunger, any more than you decide to be 23 again.
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