I will be the first to admit that my main (aka only) interest in venturing over to Prospect Park on a hot & humid Friday night was to see New Zealand’s one and only The Beths. I knew next to nothing about the 2 opening acts, Charlotte Cornfield and SASAMI. I can only say now that am I REALLY glad I got to The Lena Horne bandshell early enough to witness one of these sets.
Cornfield took the stage promptly at 7 PM and proceeded to treat the crowd to a steady and competent set of rather quiet and subdued indie folk to which the NPR types in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed. For my ears, however her set just didn’t resonate all that much with me and after the 3 song photo allotment was met I found myself chatting with some of the other photogs in attendance for what seemed like a rather long time considering Charlotte was an opener on a three-band bill at an outdoor show that had a strict New York City mandated 10 PM curfew. Before I go any further, to be clear, Cornfield’s set did seem to be quite good but it just wasn’t my thing and I just kind of lost interest. That’s not to say that she didn’t make a lot of those in attendance very pleased with her set.
Next up was SASAMI who hit the stage shortly after 8 PM. Truth be told, I had given SASAMI a bit of a listen on Spotify prior to the show and was merely lukewarm about what I had heard. Their first (self-titled) album released in 2019, was a quite polished indie pop album which while very listenable, didn’t exactly get my juices flowing. And then there is this year’s second full-length LP, Squeeze which hit the shelves back in February. You’d have to do some serious searching in order to find a sophomore LP which takes as strong a departure from its predecessor as does Squeeze.
The set started off with Sasami Ashworth’s “The Greatest” off the new album. And while the song on the album is rather subdued, the band came out and raged. They took what already sounded like a homage or at least a response to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Gift Of All” and turned it into Whitney’s Greatest Gift from an alternative (much less hospitable) dimension. From here the set only got darker, darker in a heavy metal kind of way with thundering bass lines and loud abrasive guitar chords coming from both Ashworth’s axe as well as the other guitarist who’s name I did not get. To say the least I was almost completely shocked. From here the band ripped through song after song with a fiery electric vengeance which I for one was 100% unprepared for.
Sticking with a setlist comprised entirely of titles off the new one, SASAMI’s set was absolutely mesmerizing. The energy set forth by Ashworth and the rest of the band was transfixing. A combination metal hell fest combined with an almost performance art presentation made for a show to which I (and virtually every other photographer in the pit) was paralyzed to stop clicking the shutter button. Every moment following every moment felt like something that needed to be captured.
SASAMI’s set lasted roughly 40-45 minutes yet it flew by in a flash. I for one felt winded after witnessing the whirlwind of a set which they had treated us all to. My initial reaction when it was done was, “I can’t believe it’s over so soon”. Looking at their other setlists online however, it looks like we got pretty much their entire show.
Which brings me to the headliner, The Beths. It wasn’t all that long ago, you read from me that they were the only real impetus for me being at Prospect Park in the first place. And now as I stood and waited for them to take the stage, I couldn’t help but ponder, “How the hell are they going to top THAT?!?” Having seen the band make a steady progression from DIY venue, Alphaville to 400-person Music Hall Of Williamsburg to 1000-person capacity Webster Hall, they were now faced with the unenviable task of playing (BY FAR) their most high-profile show ever in New York at the 5000 to 7000 person capacity Lena Horne Bandshell AND having to do that following an absolutely blistering set from the opener, not to mention their backs against the wall relative to a 10 PM curfew.
With it already being after 9, it appeared that we were most likely going to get a truncated set. The band came on about 9:15, opening with “I’m Not Getting Excited” but clearly they were because they came out answering the call. Despite what appeared to be some lighting irritations, Liz Stokes was exactly that, STOKED. She, along with guitarist, Jonathan Pierce, bassist, Ben Sinclair and Tristan Deck on drums hit the stage running. Barreling through stalwarts ” Happy, Unhappy” and “Out Of Sight” before offering up the lead single and title track to the upcoming album, “Expert In A Dying Field” due to drop in mid-September.
It was right about here in the set that it dawned on me that the band had figured out how they were going to get their entire set done in roughly three-quarters the normal length of the set. They were speeding everything up and HOLY SHIT, it was working masterfully! I mean they were almost approaching Ramones kind of tempos and the songs and the vibes and the atmosphere were just perfect.
After “Dying Field” we got three more older songs before they cracked open another new one called “Knees Deep”, a bright sun-shiney rocker (come to think of it a Beth’s song and sun-shiney is just redundant…aren’t they all like that?)
Attacking each upcoming song at a breakneck pace which seemed different yet also quite right. “Jump Rope Gazers” into “Uptown Girl” into “A Real Thing”, all done fast but not quite furious.
When all was said and done, The Beths managed to come out of the evening having sleighed the dragon. They overcame the adversity which faced them and finished the evening around 10:10 after a two-song encore of “You Are A Beam of Light” and “Little Death” to the delight of all. Liz and crew put on a masterful show which while certainly sped up, never felt rushed. As a matter of fact it appeared that the band had as much fun as the packed crowd. The normally stoic Jon on guitar was flashing a big grin much of the evening. Liz showed off a little Chuck Berry-esque duck walk and the rhythm section of Tristen and Ben were amazing keeping the sped up pace at bay and even keeled.
When all was said and done, all I could possibly say was, “What a night!”
NOTE: For those in the NY/NJ area The Beths will be at The Asbury Lanes on August 26th and for those in or around western MA, they will be at Courtney Barnett’s Here and There Festival at MassMoca in North Adams on August 13th.