About a week before this show, there had been an online beef/controversy between Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino and Kill Rock Stars artist Marnie Stern. Given some examples of Best Coast's lyrics (specifically the infamous "I wish my cat could talk" from "Goodbye"), Stern replied, "That's unacceptable...that's not showing any part, that's unacceptable. You might as well then be an '80s metal band saying, 'I want pussy.'" Stern's not being entirely clear in her reaction (though she seems to be responding to the hype more than the music), but she seems to be saying that Cosentino is being too simplistic and puerile in her lyrical approach.
And honestly, I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking the same thing when first listening to Crazy For You, BC's debut album. Song after song, Cosentino bounces between odes to absent boyfriends, yearnings for unavailable boys and self-conscious apologies for real and imagined slights. Sometimes her observations are poignant, sometimes mundane. You're left with a character that, like Sam in Garden State, has her charms but would be a codependent nightmare in real life. But how exactly is that "not showing any part?" I'd argue the opposite, that "I wish my cat could talk" or the ambivalent "I promise I won't be such a brat" take just as much chutzpah as Stern's busy fretwork. Cosentino writes and sings with a directness and vulnerability that, matched with her '60s-inspired pop melodies, probably has a lot to do with Best Coast's rise to fame.
Seeing Best Coast at the Gargoyle last night made it all clearer.
Cosentino, guitarist Bobb Bruno and drummer Ali Koehler (from New Jersey, part of the real best coast) presented a long and consistent set that rarely flagged in energy. They've been touring pretty much nonstop this past year, and all the road work has strengthened them into a confident and professional pop unit. Koehler adds just the right amount of Spector/"Be My Baby" panache to the slower songs and pushes the faster ones along nicely, while Bruno remains mostly quiet while peeling off surfy guitar lines.
Cosentino is an confident and charismatic stage presence, prone to self-effacing private jokes and pop culture references. Before the first song, for instance, she not only thanked opening act Male Bonding, but "whoever recommended the Galleria to us. You may think I'm kidding, but I fuckin' love the mall." Later, while waiting for a mic cord to be fixed, she explained, "I just want you guys to hear the lyrics! They're very important!" That seemed to be her way of subliminally addressing the previous week's silly online beef.
Best Coast still has some improvements to make; its energy level started flagging near the end, and the set could have been paced better in general. Nonetheless, this remains a band with incredible potential, and they were consistently impressive at the Gargoyle. A few more songs in their arsenal on the order of "When I'm With You" or the heartbreaking "This Is Real," and it'll be unstoppable.
Opening act Male Bonding provided a perfect contrast. Newly signed to Sub Pop, this British trio presented a thick, jerky wall of sound that brought to mind Wire, That Petrol Emotion and the '80s Homestead Records catalog in general (the Membranes, Volcano Suns). Even at the band's most aggressive, John Arthur Webb's sang crooning vocals over precise, intricate rhythms and mind-melting guitar feedback. Many songs climaxed in Pixies/Sonic Youth breakdowns, where the drums suddenly dropped back slowly built up to an admirable tension release. Despite what Webb called "our first ever dry gig," Male Bonding very nearly stole the show.
Best Coast setlist: 1) Wish He Was You 2) Crazy For You 3) Sun Was High (So Was I) 4) The End 5) Goodbye 6) Summer Mood 7) Boyfriend 8) Our Deal 9) Far Away 10) That's The Way Boys Are 11) This Is Real 12) Make You Mine 13) So Gone 14) Honey 15) Bratty B 16) I Want To 17) When I'm WIth You 18) Something In The Way
Male Bonding setlist: 1) Pumpkin 2) All Things This Way 3) Weird Feelings 4) Franklin 5) Before I'm Gone 6) Nohing Remains 7) Paradise Vendors 8) Carrying 9) Nothing Used To Hurt 10) Tame The Sun 11) Can't Dream 12) Years Not Long