Not since the heydey of bands like The Chills and The Clean has a New Zealand band brought such excitement to the U.S. live music scene. At Union Stage on Saturday evening, March 2, 2018, The Beths renewed a strong kiwi presence in the District with a downright enjoyable performance to a sold-out crowd.
The Beths centers upon vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes and guitarist Jonathan Pearce, who started as high school friends and then attended the University of Auckland. While there, they came upon bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston, forming the band and making their music scene debut in 2016, releasing their EP Warm Blood.
Two years and a bit of touring later, The Beths released their first full-length album in 2018, Future Me Hates Me. The Beths star appears to be on the rise. After selling out D.C.’s Songbyrd Cafe last year, their return to the District saw them playing to a sold-out audience at the Wharf’s Union Stage. (This year’s U.S. tour is drawing sell-out shows in nearly every city, with secondary market tickets selling for as high as $200.)
At Union Stage, The Beths took the stage after opening sets by Bad Moves and Bad Bad Hats. Upon gracing the stage, Liz squinted to see the mass of tightly packed fans and appeared a bit overwhelmed at first. However, that feeling seemed to quickly subside as the band dove into the first song, Whatever, and kept the audience dancing and singing along for the reminder of their set.
Having only one full-length album to play can be a blessing or a curse for a band and the audience. In this case it was clearly a blessing, as The Beths had the audience in the palm of their hand as they played all the tracks from Future Me Hates Me.
Liz remarked that she was excited to see the larger audience at Union Stage compared to their past two visits to the District. The audience repaid this compliment by emitting a huge cheer for the band and their songs.
The songs from their debut album came alive in the confined space of Union Stage, with all of the songs having a magnetic, pulsating beat. Little Death, written from the perspective of someone who is overwhelmed by the attention of their crush, benefited from harmonies which were placed on top of Liz’s increasingly urgent lyrics.
Not only do The Beths inject a playfulness in their pop-rock riffs, but they also seem to infuse witty, meaningful lyrics throughout. With lines like “Cause you’re in my brain taking up space / I need for remembering pins and to take out the bins / And that one particular film that that actor was in” (from “Happy Unhappy”), relationship woes have never sounded so catchy!
They ended their set in high energy, closing with one of the highlights from Future Me Hates Me, “Uptown Girl,” with bassist Benjamin pogoing into guitarist Jonathan in a playful fashion.
Starting in the 1980s, New Zealand’s Flying Nun record label was home to some of the best rock music of the time, with bands like The Bats, The Chills, The Clean and many other standouts on the label’s roster. (If readers don’t know these bands, the Festival Pulse editorial team suggests that readers check them out.) There is a clear path from those Flying Nun bands to The Beths, who seem to equally value clever lyrics and infectious melodies. Let’s hope that The Beths can continue to create albums in the future that build upon their remarkably confident and clever debut.
Interested in seeing The Beths in a town near you? The remainder of their U.S. tour dates are below.
MARCH 3 First Unitarian Church @ Philadelphia, PA
MARCH 5 Beachland Ballroom @ Cleveland, OH
MARCH 6 Lincoln Hall @ Chicago, IL
MARCH 7 The Basement @ Nashville, TN
MARCH 8 The Earl @ East Atlanta, GA
MARCH 8 – 17 SXSW 2019 @ Austin, TX
MARCH 9 Savannah Stopover Music Festival 2019 @ Savannah, GA
MARCH 10 Gasparilla Music Festival 2019 @ Tampa, FL
MARCH 11 Mohawk @ Austin, TX
MARCH 14 Scoot Inn @ Austin, TX
MARCH 16 Deep Ellum Art Company @ Dallas, TX
MARCH 16 Not So Much Fun Wknd 2019 @ Dallas, TX
MARCH 17 Satellite Bar @ Houston, TX