by Riley Flanagan
Photos by Jace Arrigali
I’ve come to realize that a fan can never rely on recordings to capture an artist’s level of performance. Beabadoobee is absolutely no exception. I’ve dabbled in Bea’s music for years, many of her songs coming up on my Spotify Discover Weekly and gracing my highly curated playlists. Her soft vocals and bedroom pop style are comforting and easy to listen to, but her songs performed live are accompanied by a grinding guitar and heavy drums that completely contradict the softness of the recorded versions. I was pleasantly surprised by this sharp turn – the live sound is so much bigger than I anticipated from the more subdued tracks online.
This tour follows the July 15 release of Beabadoobee’s second studio album, Beatopia, released on British indie label Dirty Hit. The album art is a childish masterpiece in Crayola, preparing listeners to enter a land of childlike wonder. Sonically, the music fits that theme, and we get to hear a good mix of upbeat, dreamy tunes.
In interviews, Bea has shared that this album is based off of an imaginary world she had dreamt up as a child, a place with its own language and customs that she could escape to when she felt othered by the kids at school.
All this in mind, when the Roadrunner house lights shut off and guitar feedback began whirring over the speakers, I knew that this performance would add layers to this fantasy land of an album. Bea stalks on stage in a punky, Avril Lavigne-esque outfit complete with a red plaid skirt and black shoulder-padded jacket. This demeanor contradicts the adolescence of the music she’s about to perform, and goes to show how much she’s grown as both an artist and as a person since that time of insecurity in her childhood.
Stuffed animals are strewn about the stage as they would be in a little kid’s bedroom, and Bea stands tall among them, all grown up, with a monstrosity of a pedal setup at her feet. Opening with “10:36,” we get to hear live the striking rock melodies that are dulled on the computerized track. Bea rips into her powder blue guitar, shocking everyone in the crowd, including myself, that hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see her live. Other songs follow this same pattern. “Apple Cider” and “Care” also come to life as she plays them live with a full rock sound. These tracks come off of her older albums Loveworm and Fake it Flowers, respectively. Bea played a smattering of her entire discography, but pulls mainly from Beatopia and Fake it Flowers, the latter of which expresses that punkier, harder sound that we don’t hear as distinctly on Beatopia.
Bea mixes and matches, playing one or two songs off of one album then the other, meshing her older sound with a newer one that references her childhood. This makes for an interesting show, as there’s a sense of Bea growing into herself musically without losing those childhood aspects that clearly contributed so much to her artistry.
Tossing her jacket off to the back of the stage, Beabadoobee closes the show with “Talk,” my personal favorite off the newest album. The crowd is just as energized as they were from the start as Bea moves in and out of full-on guitar breaks, maturing the sound that came off far more subdued in the recording. The song swells to a finish, Bea rips off the guitar, and grabs a stuffed animal from the stage to chuck into the crowd. Her and her band stalk off with no goodbyes and the stage is dark for a beat.
The encore! Bea comes out with an acoustic guitar and speaks conversationally to the audience, sharing how deeply personal the next few songs are to her. These end up being “Coffee,” her first breakout song released in 2017, as well as “Ripples” and “Cologne.” These songs are slower and contrast the loudness of the performance up to this point. They bring the show to a calming close, and Bea’s intimate conversation brings us back to the childlike vulnerability that comes through so clearly on Beatopia. This being Beabadoobee’s final show on tour, it seemed to be a full-circle moment for the artist. The central theme of her most recent opus was childhood, and she just performed that concept for the final time on this tour to a room of thousands, simultaneously the oldest she’s ever been and the youngest she’ll ever be. The confidence with which she captivated the Roadrunner audience proved just how far Bea has come from those feelings of insecurity she shared that inspired Beatopia, both the dream world and subsequently the album.