The Beths Charm the Cambridge Crowd

// Photo by Mika Simoncelli

About halfway through their set, The Beths finally acknowledged the giant inflatable fish on stage with them. “What should we name it?” they asked the audience, and we eagerly generated suggestions—Barnaby and Chicken, amongst other strong candidates, were shouted from the crowd. Finally, someone called out “Sidney Fish,” a play on the name of the opening act, Sidney Gish, and everyone laughed in approval. It was settled.

The absurdity of a blow-up trout staring blankly out over the crowd was just one of many ways in which The Beths avoided taking themselves too seriously. Throughout their marvelous, tightly played, concert at the Sinclair on February 27th, they interspersed their songs with bits. They had the audience count a song in—with no further instructions as to tempo or timing, it became complete chaos. Benjamin Sinclair, the bassist, paused the show to advertise his (currently up-to-date) tour blog, Breakfast and Travel Updates. When the show was over, the audience chanted “One more bit! One more bit!” until they came back on stage. Their deadpan humor and anti-rock star demeanor (Elizabeth Stokes, the lead singer, wore a baggy shirt and sipped tea from a mug throughout the show) was hard, however, to reconcile with the rock-star-level excellence of their music and playing.

_// Photo by Mika Simoncelli

Opening for them was the artist Sidney Gish, who was particularly warmly received by the Boston crowd—Gish graduated from Northeastern University in 2020. Gish's songs were performed solo, skillfully constructed one piece at a time with a loop pedal. Her cleverly-written songs were delivered with a sense of humor that set the tone perfectly for The Beths, and her new single "Filming School" was well received, with excitement for whatever comes next.

The Beths, originally from Auckland, New Zealand, are touring throughout North America this spring in support of their newest album, Expert in a Dying Field, released in September 2022. Between songs, they mentioned that they had been in Toronto the day before, and gave a heartfelt shoutout to their van driver. The night's set included most of the songs from Expert, and showcased some earlier hits—opening with "Future Me Hates Me" and ending their encore with "Little Death." A few highlights were from 2020's Jump Rope Gazers, including the fast and furiously played "I'm Not Getting Excited" and the romantic title track—noticeably the lowest BPM in their setlist, but without sacrificing any of the band's charm.

The last song on The Beth's setlist was “Expert in a Dying Field,” the crowd-favorite title song of their latest album. The song cleverly compares the unraveling of a relationship—rendering pointless all of the years of knowledge you’ve accumulated about your partner—to expertise in a discipline that is fading fast. The song contains all of The Beths’s signatures: Stokes’s agile vocals, head-bangable drums, the weightless ease of the guitar, astute and incisive lyrics. But out of this lightness and virtuosity emerged something deeper. For all their irony and distance, for all their bits and jokes, Elizabeth Stokes's songwriting skewers tender feelings of love, loss, and longing. When we emerged from the concert into the darkness and the fast-falling snow, we felt that The Beths had recognized an intimate part of us and spun it into song.

// Mika Simoncelli '23.5 is a photographer, writer, and DJ for The Record Hospital. Celia Silver '24 is a staff writer for WHRB.