So, rock and roll. Two guitars, bass and drums. Loud, messy and emotional. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I still need it. And who better right now to provide the catharsis of rock and roll than Auckland, New Zealand’s The Beths? I’m late to the The Beths bandwagon, but I find this live album to be a great introduction to them. I’m surely influenced by my absolute love of New Zealand and its people, stemming from a short visit there a few years ago.
The Beths is Elizabeth Stokes on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Jonathan Pearce on lead guitar, Benjamin Sinclair on bass and Tristan Deck on drums and percussion, and the latter three all contribute vocals, especially harmonies behind Stokes. The band got together when all were at university studying jazz. Their 2018 debut Future Me Hates Me hit big and they were just coming off an extensive northern hemisphere tour and preparing to release their sophomore disc Jump Rope Gazers when the Covid lockdown hit in March 2020.
New Zealand did better than most places in the world at controlling the pandemic and was able to return to live events by the end of 2020. The Beths toured Aotearoa New Zealand in October 2020 and wrapped it up in early November in a packed Auckland Town Hall. They put together a documentary video of the tour and released this CD from that final show. It rocks, and (something that’s important to me, apparently) the lyrics are clever, incisive and meaningful.
After a brief bit of crowd noise, Stokes says “Hello” and opens with the urgent guitar riff of “I’m Not Getting Excited” that elicits excited screams from the crowd, and we’re off and running. Pearce gets another excited scream for his barely controlled guitar solo between the second and third verses, and we’re basically in indie pop heaven. The final verse of that opening song is such a perfect bit of jaggedly poetic young adult angst that I can’t help but quote the whole thing.
I’m not getting excited
‘Cause my fight and my flight are divided
And so I don’t enthuse
Keep my grip on joy loose
And I wait for the news with my feet in my shoes
And I lose it all
With one foot out the door
When I smile I lie with my eye to the side
So I greet with goodbye
I greet with goodbye.
As is often the case when a band like this plays its material live before an appreciative crowd, a lot of these songs are fast or faster. Fortunately for geezers like me they pull it back a little bit occasionally like on “Whatever,” which seems to be about the narrator taking the blame for a bad relationship they didn’t really want to get into in the first place. And the title track of their debut, “Future Me Hates Me” is another one that’s, well, mid-tempo for this band on this night, lyrically on a pretty much the same theme: “Future heartbreak, future headaches / Wide-eyed nights late lying awake / With future cold shakes / From stupid mistakes / Future me hates me for.” What I can’t write down here is the complex set of backing vocals contributed by Pearce, Sinclair and Deck, very impressive.
“Jump Rope Gazers” even approaches ballad territory, and opens with a great little narrative twist: “I’ve never been the dramatic type / But if I don’t see your face tonight / I… well I guess I’ll be fine.” It’s followed by “Uptown Girl” which approaches hardcore punk frenzy tempo, all power chords and ultrafast drum riffs. And delicious vocal harmonies, too. It goes on like this for just about an hour, winding up with “River Run,” which plays like a semi-acoustic ballad on the verses and soars with distorted chords and “ooo-ooo-oooh” backing vocals on the goosebumpy chorus.
My friends who’ve been hyping The Beths for the past three years will roll their eyes but politely not say “I told you so” when I say I like this band. If you need a little rock in your life right now, give it a try. Watch the tour film on Vimeo and the band’s YouTube channel.
(Carpark Records, 2021)