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The Beths rise to the occasion for make-up First Avenue show

The Beths performed at First Avenue on Monday, March 20, 2023. Sidney Gish was the opening act.
The Beths performed at First Avenue on Monday, March 20, 2023. Sidney Gish was the opening act.Sara Fish for MPR

by Sofia Haan and Sara Fish

March 21, 2023

“The Beths are a fun band that knows what they’re doing,” opener Sidney Gish said simply, yet correctly. After a February snowstorm put a pause on their initial tour date, the New Zealand-based power-pop quartet returned to First Avenue to host an earnest, yet celebratory evening for a sold-out crowd of passionate fans. 

The Beths’ Minneapolis stop came in support of their latest release, 2022’s Expert in a Dying Field. The release of their third studio album marks the band’s reset following 2020’s more-subdued Jump Rope Gazers. Building off of the playful and energetic tone first established in 2018’s Future Me Hates Me, Expert sought to return the band to the dynamic indie pop sound on which they built their name. 

How did this recalibration translate to a live show? Guided by lead singer and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes’ soaring vocals and driven by lead guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s commanding guitar riffs, the band seemed to propel the crowd’s energy steadily upward with each song until it felt as though the entire Mainroom itself was pulsing in time with the music. The setlist pulled from the band’s entire discography, creating a series of upbeat and extremely catchy tunes. Throughout the show, heads bobbed in rhythm, fists pounded above the crowd, and attendees danced fiercely despite the densely packed dance floor. 

Two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer perform in front of an audience
The Beths performed at First Avenue on Monday, March 20, 2023. Sidney Gish was the opening act.
Sara Fish for MPR

Despite their initial bouncy sound, the songs’ richer layer of introspection and heartfelt pondering came through clearly. Throughout the set, Stokes’ lyrics addressed the myriad of feelings experienced throughout the various stages of a relationship: timid to brazen, regretful to unburdened, fearful to empowered. On the rousing “Knees Deep,” Stokes dreams about being the person who can leap into the future without fear, saying “The shame! / I wish that I was brave enough to dive in / But I never had been and never will be / I’m coming in hot then freezing completely.” Alternatively, on “Expert in a Dying Field,” Stokes speaks as someone still burdened with the intimate knowledge of a partner who’s no longer in their life, singing: “I can burn the evidence / But I can’t burn the pain / And I can’t forget it / How does it feel / To be an expert in a dying field? / And how do you know / It’s over when you can’t let go?”

Expert in a Dying Field’s exploration of the lingering thoughts left over from the end of a relationship came to a head with a moment of collective catharsis during “Best Left” toward the beginning of the set. Led by a meandering guitar, Stokes initially sang alone, exploring how to leave behind old memories that don’t deserve to be touched, but are hard to ignore. Eventually Pearce and bassist Benjamin Sinclair underscored Stokes’ vocals with tightly woven harmonies, calling out over the crowd “Some things are best left to rot.” It didn’t take long for the crowd to lift their voices to join and let the phrase ring throughout the mainroom. Whether or not every concertgoer connected with Stokes’ words exactly, simply repeating the chorus together seemed to allow audiences to free themselves from the weight of past feelings, if only for the song’s duration. 

A man plays electric guitar with amps behind him under bright lights
The Beths performed at First Avenue on Monday, March 20, 2023. Sidney Gish was the opening act.
Sara Fish for MPR

While the content of the songs themselves touched on heavier subjects, the band members created a sort of celebratory atmosphere throughout their 90-minute set. Repeatedly thanking the audience for attending the rescheduled date, both concertgoer and band member seemed to acknowledge and rejoice at the simple pleasure of the show taking place at all. Despite it being a Monday night, the crowd was buzzing with energy and excitement, as though the new date allowed for the audience to experience a performance that was entirely their own. 

The night closed out simply with a two-song encore of “You Are a Beam of Light” and “Little Death.” After a raucous evening, a reverent hush fell over the crowd as Stokes performed the soft ballad. That quiet evaporated as the band pivoted to fan favorite “Little Death,” as attendees sang the familiar words at the top of their voices. When the house lights inevitably went up, the crowd stayed fixed in place, cheering until the Beths had fully disappeared from the stage. Maybe they hoped that the celebration would never end. 

Sidney Gish holds a guitar and sings into a microphone
Sidney Gish. The Beths performed at First Avenue on Monday, March 20, 2023. Sidney Gish was the opening act.
Sara Fish for MPR

Before the Beths began their set, singer-songwriter Gish commanded the crowd with her infectious spoken-word-meets-indie-pop sound. Accompanied only by a loop pedal and a pre-recorded drum track, she explored themes of insecurity, self-deprecation, and the challenges of finding her own way in the world as a person in their early 20s. Despite being a relatively new face on the indie pop scene, a vocal contingent of fans loudly sang her lyrics back to her, cheering in anticipation as each new song began. In between tracks, Gish announced to the audience that they were present for the “secret last show of tour,” referencing the postponed date. “We weren’t going to miss out on y’all just because of a snowstorm,” she said amidst excited applause. Standing in a single spotlight, she wrapped her set with “Not But For You, Bunny” off of her acclaimed 2018 album, No Dogs Allowed. 

While Sidney Gish’s lyrics contained tongue-in-cheek musings on the world, the Beths’ tracks were stark and honest, surveying the indelible marks left by previous relationships through the open-hearted vulnerability of Stokes’ lyricism. Through their signature fuzzy indie rock sound, the Beths guided audience members through an exploration of the hope and anguish of such relationships, creating a space for a collective release of emotion and celebrating what is to come. 


Setlist

Future Me Hates Me 

Knees Deep

Out of Sight

You Wouldn’t Like Me

Your Side 

Best Left 

I Want to Listen

Head in the Clouds

Don’t Go Away

Jump Rope Gazers

Less Than Thou

I Told You That I Was Afraid

When You Know You Know

I’m Not Getting Excited

Silence is Golden

Expert in a Dying Field


Encore

You Are a Beam of Light

Little Death