Gracious. Enthusiastic. Humble. Joyful. Kind. Given the lo-fi “bratty b” surf-pop doo-wop swagger dripping off Best Coast’s studio albums, you’d be forgiven for not betting their live show, on the East Coast no less, would be so magnanimous. But that’d be a losing bet, as the confident yet endearingly accessible Bethany Cosentino, Bobb Bruno and Co. proved on Saturday night to be all these ways and more. And by more, we mean ambassadors of rocking out most heart-achingly hard. Dreamily hard. California hard. So hard, in fact, that this first sold-out date of their tour left a full-scale love fest, complete with hardcore making out, in its wake.
Opening the show was Nashville’s dual-femme-fronted Those Darlins, here to bring D.C. some serious surf-punk ruckus. Reminiscent of a marriage between our soon-to-be-seen headliners and The Ramones (whose tracks aired over the PA between sets), Those Darlins’ sequin-spangled fuzzy twang also ran the gamut from garage to sock hop and set the tone perfectly for the main event.
With a few bass rumbles and synth stabs, lights dimmed and shone down on our should-be-sun-bleached, should-be-rivals taking the stage. Without hesitation, Bethany started strumming, oohing, and ahhing much surfy greatness off Best Coast’s debut. The band cranked out “The End,” “Crazy for You,” and “Goodbye” like a refreshing blast of proverbial beach mist to the face. Breaking from the first-record-nostalgia bender long enough to greet the crowd with a full-hearted charismatic shout-out, a chipper Bethany professed their happiness to be here in D.C. at the 9:30 Club, “one of the best venues in America,” enthusiastically praising their air conditioning and proper treatment of bands. The 9:30 crowd loved them (and each other) right back by shouting, dancing, singing and swaying – and yes, legit making out, through the bulk of Best Coast’s clearly satisfying 20-song set.
With a half-rotating lineup, Best Coast has always been and will always be Bethany ‘n Bobb; this came across in the best possible way. Throughout the night, Cosentino and Bruno (and the nameless redshirt guy on guitar duty) traded off on bass, with all three on electric six-string at one point, creating a blanket of warm fuzz so thick that the lack of four-string was barely missed. Bethany’s telltale voice was just as full, lush and amazing as it is on the albums. However, her studio self-harmonization was missing, understandably, and was missed noticeably. Still, the band’s sound felt full; the energy was up, and the show felt complete, with both LPs well represented – The Only Place tunes mostly sandwiched in between Crazy For You bookends – plus a few lagniappe numbers and a generous six-song encore squeezed in.
Bobb’s bookish everyman earnestness is as palpable and lovable as Bethany’s understated coolness and warmth. Much like their songwriting style, their connection felt authentic, visceral, unlikely and spontaneous, revealing their charms and talents, as well as their humor and humanity, as even small mistakes were laughed off hilariously. The vibe was very down-to-earth; at one point, Bobb started shredding Black Sabbath riffs upon random crowd request. Continually fueling this fuss-free love-fest with friendly banter, obvious chemistry, and high praise for both D.C. and the much deserving Those Darlins (who Bethany called the best band they’ve ever toured with), it was a night of pure fun felt fully by all, sophomore slumps and lyrical-existential ennui be damned. Aloof and hazy bicoastal exercise in postmodern ironic cynical detachment this was not.
Indeed, there’s something about the summer; there’s also something about Bethany on the bass, and about their covering Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” – both personal highlights, along with hearing so much of their own material done so well, right through the show-closing slow intro to “Boyfriend,” just as all hope of their playing it felt lost.
And while I admittedly wasn’t among the making-out, baking-out masses, I can (perhaps all too easily) imagine another life… One on a more laid back (some might even say better) coast… Wherein more days would be spent lost in thought, sand between toes, herbs in glass, fuzz and reverb each cranked to 11… I don’t wanna be… how they want me to beeee…
Ahem. All of which is to say, Well done, Best Coast. I’ll be over here, waiting by the phone, in case one of your redshirts gets eaten by a great white shark, California bear, or a talking Snacks the Cat. Come back soon, okay?