The Beths at Brooklyn Steel (photo by Ray Rusinak)
When posed with the prospect of doing a writeup on last Thursday’s sold out The Beths show at Brooklyn Steel, I must admit I was a bit perplexed. This would be my fifth writeup I would be doing on the band in the last 12 months. What could I possibly find to say that I hadn’t already put to paper. Of course these trepidations were relieved the moment Liz Stokes, Jonathan Pierce, Tristan Deck, and Benjamin Sinclair took the stage jumping right into the title track to their debut album from 2018, Future Me Hates Me.
Actually, my concerns were assuaged even before the band took the stage when their walk on music started. You’ve got to hand it to a band that has the sense of humor to walk out onstage to a video game style remix of one of their biggest songs. This is exactly what The Beths did with “Future Me Hates Me.” To add to this humor we were treated to the inflating of a giant fish which opener Sidney Gish had alluded to during her opening set just to the right of Deck’s drum riser. (NOTE: Although relatively little is known about the significance of this onstage prop from under the sea, supposedly it was nicknamed at last week’s Chicago show at Thalia Hall, Sidney Fish).
Speaking of Sidney Gish, her opening set was quite good. With just her, her guitar and a myriad of pedals and sequencers to back her up she played a roughly ten song set that did exactly what you want a warm up act to accomplish…get the audience’s attention, entertain them and lastly get them warmed up for the headliner all within a limited amount of time. Gish and her sarcastic and quite humorous stage banter did exactly that and I think it would be interesting to see what her set would sound like with a full backing band.
Moving along, back to The Beths. The band’s next tune, “Knees Deep” was one of my favorites from last year’s Expert In A Dying Field, which in turn was my favorite album of 2022. (Read more thoughts on the album here.) The band got about halfway through the third tune of the evening, “Out Of Sight” when Stokes abruptly stopped playing upon her noticing a member of the crowd was in need of assistance. Once the person was clearly safe and attended to, Stokes sheepishly inquired as to where the band should resume from and it was pretty much unanimous amongst her fellow band members, as well as the crowd, that starting from the top was the only way to go.
Next up was the first of five songs which I had not previously heard the band perform before. Another off of the latest album, “Your Side,” is a gorgeously flowing love song which Stokes nailed on vocals. Her ability to migrate from her regular singing voice to an angelic falsetto is truly something to behold.
Speaking of vocals, I know that I’ve mentioned in the past how good the vocals and in particular the harmonies sung by the three other members of the band have progressed over time; this progression has continued almost exponentially. Clearly, these four musicians from Auckland, New Zealand have spent a lot of time listening and studying the music of Southern California. So often throughout the evening, I could have closed my eyes and thought, “God damn, these vocals could be right off of The Beach Boys’s Endless Summer compilation.” I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t at all prepared for the incredible backup vocals from Pierce, Sinclair and Deck. Again, Southern California, specifically Laurel Canyon, and the harmonies of Crosby Stills and Nash came to mind.
The set throughout the night would progress, not surprisingly, with a heavy dose of tunes from Expert In A Dying Field, which was fine by me. Despite having caught the band three times in 2022, all of these shows were before the September release of the new album, so besides the singles which were released prior to the album dropping, there was still much material which I had yet to hear in a live setting and once again, Stokes and crew did not disappoint. Whereas The Beths’ setlists did not vary all that much last year, the setlist on Thursday night was almost half filled with songs which were not played last go around, including five songs which I’d never heard live: “Your Side”, “Best Left,” “I Want To Listen,” “Head In The Clouds” and “You Are A Beam Of Light.”
The Beths at Brooklyn Steel
Another pleasant surprise came about two thirds of the way through the show when Stokes pulled out an acoustic guitar for “When You Know You Know.” I could be mistaken but I don’t recall her ever playing acoustic guitar on stage on any of the band’s previous tours and it added a nice warm feel to the song, really opening the sound of the band up. Of particular note was Pierce’s lead guitar solo. ’d taken note throughout the night that his guitar fills had gotten much more innovative and dare I say complicated, but these were mere fills between verses. When the time for his solo during “When You Know” came around his fingerwork was down right prog-y. Not in the pretentious “look at me and my self indulgent guitar stylings” kind of way but more in a technical sense. His growth as a guitar player was clearly evident throughout the night.
And speaking of growth, once again, I can only gush over what I see as the incredible development The Beths have made as a touring band since that first night I saw them at Alphaville in 2018. Granted, Deck hadn’t yet joined the band on drums and Sinclair’s visa issues prevented him from making the trip to the US that tour, but as good as they were that night, it was clear that they were still figuring things out. Stokes, who I believe is stage shy to begin with, has grown into a much more self assured lead vocalist and leader of the band. While she will probably always (I hope) come off as being humbled to be where she and the band are, at this juncture she manages to exude a confidence and assurance that she and her three bandmates are where they are today because they worked hard to get there. They deserve to be there and most importantly are reveling in every moment while they are there.
I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but after starting their night off with the title track from their first album, and then playing the title track from their second album, Jump Rope Gazers roughly midway through their set, they finished their regular set with the title track off of their last album, “Expert in A Dying Field.” A wonderfully crafted pop song that would have been a huge hit if the modern day music world had any sense whatsoever.
Upon coming out for their encore, Stokes once again played her acoustic guitar for “You Are A Beam Of Light,” a deep cut off of the Jump Rope Gazers album. And once again, the old SoCal vibe came across loud and clear as she finger picked while her free floating voice transcended throughout the room of adoring and “pin drop” silent crowd. I say SoCal vibe this time around as the feel of Joni Mitchell circa 1968 was all over this one. Of course the band would never close things off on such a quietly somber, albeit beautiful note. Instead, they finished the night off with one more, a resounding version of “Silence Is Golden” with the once quietly attentive audience in full bore sing along mode.
And just like that it was over. But once again, The Beths had proven that they were ready, willing and more than able to move on to the next level. They’ve gone from being second bill in small DIY venues to headlining multi thousand person clubs almost without a bat of the eye. But even more than just accomplishing this feat is the fact that they’ve done it on their own terms without having had to sacrifice any of their artistic integrity. With tours coming up this summer supporting the likes of The National and Death Cab For Cutie, they will obviously be playing even larger venues still. I’ve got a strong suspicion that it won’t be long before it’s The Beths who will be headlining shows at these very same larger venues.
See our past coverage of The Beths: Webster Hall Feb. 2022, BRIC July 2022, Asbury Lanes August 2022.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot vids, pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)
Setlist: Future Me Hates Me, Knees Deep, Out of Sight, Your Side, Best Left, Dying to Believe, Idea/Intent, I Want to Listen, Head in the Clouds, Jump Rope Gazers, Less Than Thou, When You Know You Know, I’m Not Getting Excited, Whatever, Little Death, Expert In A Dying Field Encore: You Are a Beam of Light, Silence Is Golden