story + photos / Ilyse Kaplan
In Los Angeles, we are lucky to call bands “our own” before the rest of the world but sometimes it is hard to remember that if we think they are really great, it won’t be long before others realize just how great they are.
I first saw Best Coast in June of 2009, playing the Beach Dazed FMLY Festival. The festival was held in a small furniture warehouse in a weird part of Culver City. I distinctly remember Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno walking directly from the audience (that consisted of about ten people plus some filtering in and out) and on to the makeshift stage that stood in the center of various wooden furniture pieces that no festival attendee could afford. It was just the two of them; Cosentino on vocals and guitar and Bruno on bass, playing simple doo-wop fueled lo-fi pop songs. I saw them once more at The Echo the same year, again playing to a small crowd. Though Cosentino made it feel as if she was performing in her own bedroom (in a good way), I knew it was something special because the songs stayed with me. Though a copy of their 7” was hard to find at the time and there was anticipation for their full-length, their popularity came as a shock. I did not think they would go straight from The Echo to Coachella. As shocking as it was for the Los Angeles folk that had been with them since they played The Smell, the shock was much greater for Cosentino who lived it. She went from playing tiny venues with minimal crowds to playing for thousands of people and becoming so much of an Internet celebrity that even her cat was famous. Learning to deal with the overnight fame is clearly reflected on her latest release, “The Only Place,” and it was clear from her performance May 18th at The Wiltern, that she has been working hard to give fans and even higher quality of music than what was put forth in the early days.
The lights dimmed to blue and a giant screen showcasing the album artwork of their latest, “The Only Place” was lowered as band mates walked on to the stage all in black. Finally Cosentino herself entered the stage wearing a white lace dress and a scream so piercing arose from the crowd that I could only compare it to the screams I once heard at an *Nsync concert in 1999.
Cosentino brought new confidence to an old song with the shows’ opener, “Honey,” letting her voice be the focal point instead of hiding it behind distortion. As on her new record, placing her voice at the forefront brings a new element to Best Coast and proves the band’s staying power. It was comforting in the early days when you watched them and thought, “I could do that,” in the same way punk music encouraged everyone to play instruments by learning three chords, but with the power in her voice Cosentino shows that not everyone can do that. Though the fans sang along to every word.
Breezing through old favorites including “Summer Mood” and “Crazy for You,” Cosentino moved on to the slower songs from the new record that really showed off her vocals. “How They Want Me to Be,” a lament on living life in the public eye but retaining your own integrity had a haunting beauty when performed live. Allowing her voice to crescendo, Cosentino told the haters to “fuck off” both lyrically and vocally. Though most of us can’t relate to living life in the public eye the song is certainly a nice message to her fans, “just be yourself!” Cosentino told the crowd.
Often citing Stevie Nicks as a big influence, Cosentino paid homage by performing Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” as part of the five-song encore. Included in the encore was also an early demo, “The Sun Was High (So Was I).” This song especially showcased the new chapter of musical maturity we are seeing from Best Coast. This song has always been a favorite of mine and one I remember the band performing from their early stages. Friday, I got to hear Cosentino belting the song out like I had never heard before.
Ending the night with the songs that first drew fans to Best Coast, “When I’m With You” and “Boyfriend,” I felt like I had gone back in time, watching fourteen year olds dancing to Best Coast with fresh eyes. As much as I felt like I went back in time, I also felt like Best Coast grew up before my very eyes and I was proud to have been there in the beginning, watching from the golden coast.