Photography by Alina Gorbaty
We live in a world of increasing distances, our connections made through screens and our words reduced to pictures of thumbs up and devil faces. This distance permeates the live music scene as well, as artists more and more often perform behind invisible walls, their moves choreographed and their words premeditated. That is not the world that James Alex and Beach Slang live in, though. Alex’s unbridled enthusiasm and encompassing warmth took a cold November night at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco and turned it into a truly enjoyable punk rock show.
“Hi, we’re Beach Slang and we’re here to punch you right in the heart,” said Alex as he took the stage, before launching into “Filthy Luck”.
To say Alex wears his heart on his sleeve would be to paraphrase his own words. “Nothing I say is ironic,” he breathlessly told the crowd between the songs. “My heart is like boom. I might die tomorrow.” Later in the show, he gave his cell phone number out to crowd and told them to hit him up later (having interviewed Alex a few weeks ago, I can confirm the number he gave out is indeed legitimate). He fed off his fans in a way few musical acts are willing to, chatting with them about topics like argyle sweaters and how he’d read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the “96th time” on the ride down to San Francisco.
Fans of Beach Slang certainly hope Alex doesn’t die anytime soon, as the band’s debut full-length, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, continues to rack up acclaim in the press. The music, a punk exterior with pop sensibilities, is bolstered by Alex’s lyrics, smart and forlorn celebrations of the outcast. When he launched into the chorus of “American Girls and French Kisses”, a track off 2014’s Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?, fans sang along with him, a testament to Beach Slang’s rapidly growing popularity and their unique ability to make brash punk anthems you can learn the words to.
Comparisons to Jawbreaker and The Replacements are warranted and embraced by the band. Alex himself has cited both acts as inspirations and even offered up a cover of the former’s “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault” during their encore and the latter’s “Bastards of Young” to close out their main set. Perhaps more surprising was Beach Slang’s one-verse rendition of Bright Eyes’ “Lua”, a song Alex mentioned he was preparing for an upcoming tribute show. With the rest of the group waiting onstage, he gave a surprisingly authentic and fragile rendition of the opening lines, a testament to the varied tastes that have led to Beach Slang’s infectious sound.
Most of the evening was decidedly louder, as cuts “Throwaways” and “Ride the Wild Haze” sent sonic tidal waves splashing down the sides of the Rickshaw Stop. A punk and indie rock venue nestled among the dotcom behemoths of San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, there was something poignant and satisfying in knowing the late-night coders at Twitter might hear the echoes of Beach Slang’s raucous melodies reverberating in their cubicles. For the crowd inside, it was like being in on a secret you’re certain will soon be discovered.
When I spoke with Alex, I suggested that soon enough he might be playing The Fillmore, San Francisco’s most iconic and beloved music venue. He was cautiously optimistic at the suggestion, but watching Beach Slang do everything in their power to incite an earthquake of noise and emotion on Thursday night, it seems very likely that bigger, if not better, things await them. For now, it is enough to take solace in the fact that there are still acts out there ready to give their hearts to the crowd, to play with bloodied fingers and reckless abandon for their cell phone plans, to make inviting, contagious music and give us everything but the cure.
Hard Luck Kid
Ride the Wild Haze
American Girls and French Kisses
Too Late to Die Young
Bastards of Young [The Replacements Cover]
We Are Nothing
Lua [Bright Eyes Cover]
All Fuzzed Out
Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault [Jawbreaker Cover]