Live review: Best Coast at the Troubadour
After the last song of her band's headlining set at the Troubadour on Saturday, Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast did something unusual for her — she acted like a pop star. After a brief jam of sun-saturated guitar fuzz, she dropped her instrument and climbed on the stage monitor to belt out some final boy-crazy, implacably sad lyrics.
Coming from a young woman raised in the Smell's gnarled avant-garde (with a bandmate, Bobb Bruno, who plays in a rabbit costume for his white-noise solo project), this was practically a U2-caliber indulgence.
But it underscored the unusual position that Cosentino, one of L.A.'s most promising and disarming new songwriters, is at in her whiplash ascent to national fame. She has a dozen immaculate, three-minute hits that would keep Carole King up at night; 17,000 Twitter followers who ravenously await updates on the exploits of Snacks, her album-cover-star cat; and a streak of the same dreamy, iconic California-ness that's pulled people west for more than a century.
But after Saturday's technically exacting but oddly listless show, it's clear that she's also massively ambivalent about the whole operation.
Best Coast's charm comes from Cosentino's ability to pair prosaic lyrical interests (her cat, her boyfriend and her pot habit are perennial topics) with effortless and romantic melodies that make her songs feel like she's dishing on boy drama with an old friend.
When she's at her best, as on the witty unrequited crush lament “Boyfriend” or the wistful slow burn of “Our Deal,” she finds unlikely pearls of human-heart truth in lines about weed-filching, noncommittal dudes.
At the Troubadour, her months of hard touring made her only better at delivering them — Cosentino's voice is stronger than it's ever been, but she hasn't lost any of her winningly ditzy inflections and earnest coos. Bruno's lead guitar is subtle but evocative, and the band's powerful new drummer, Ali Koehler, gives Best Coast the rhythmic heft these meticulous songs have always craved.
But the band has hard choices to make as it rounds the corner form local heroes to international concern. First, because someone has to say it — Best Coast badly needs a bassist. Bruno can occasionally thicken out the low end with a processed guitar, but as the band moves from Echo Curio into more sonically refined rooms, there's a richness on record that's disappointingly missing in person.
Also, this hypothetical bassist should sing often — Best Coast's debut album, “Crazy for You,” is alive with vocal harmonies in every corner, and its live show deeply misses those touches.
The Troubadour may be the farthest west Best Coast has played in L.A., and it was clear Cosentino didn't quite know what to make of this more mainstream crowd. Her usually rapier banter was entirely absent, and her only unguarded moment was a riff on how she used to climb on the Troubadour's stage at Rilo Kiley concerts as a teenager.
-- August Brown
Photo: Band members Ali Koehler, left, lead singer and guitar, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno photographed at The Cabash in San Diego. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times