Beach Slang Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, September 14
Published Sep 15, 2017"We are Beach Slang from Philadelphia and we are here to punch you right in your beautiful heart!" was how Beach Slang frontman James Alex introduced his band. Known for his impassioned sincerity, Alex came decked out in his official heart-punching uniform: a vintage, baby blue ruffled tuxedo shirt, red bowtie, rust cords and a navy blazer with a big heart patch over the breast pocket, as if he was the one guy who couldn't get a prom date.
A lot of Beach Slang songs sound as though Alex lives vicariously through those years too, with a somewhat unhealthy fixation on his teenage life and the bands that inspired him (see the Replacements, Goo Goo Dolls and Hüsker Dü). But that type of nostalgia makes for great anthem writing, and he specializes in that. The crowd echoed this fact immediately, singing along almost every word as soon as he announced, "The night is alive / It's loud and I'm drunk" in opener "Noisy Heaven." Recognizing this, he even told us to sing the "High enough to feel alive" chorus during "Ride the Wild Haze."
Generously covering material from both of their albums, 2015's The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us and last year's A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, as well as the band's EPs, Alex matched the electricity of his songs with a rock star persona. "I learned this next move from Gene Simmons," he explained, after sipping water, then leaning back and spitting it in the air. He bounced around, committed windmills, threw up breath mints to catch in his mouth, and engaged every opportunity he could with his fans. Unfortunately, his actions ended up devolving into a rather corny shtick.
He began relentlessly insisting on playing seconds of Santana's "Smooth," a selection of Eagles hits, Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy" (though, he admitted, "I wasn't gonna take the time to learn Lit lyrics") and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away," but stripped them of any enjoyment by attempting to make belittling cracks about each one. When they got to a sober cover of Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" — which was plagued by the ceaseless and deafening treble of Aurore Ounjian's guitar — it felt almost disingenuous.
"I'm probably the shyest, most humble person you will ever meet," Alex announced, the first of many times he would acknowledge his humility. However, it was only when he came out for the encore, on his own, to pay tribute to the late Grant Hart with "Too Late to Die Young," that he exhibited the side of him he likes to promote.
When it comes to songwriting, James Alex wears his heart on his sleeve (though, quite literally, he wears it on his breast pocket); as his song and album titles insist, it's all about helping people feel a deep connection with others. Sadly, on this night, Alex's antics seemed to overshadow that sentiment, and the feelings he sings so avidly about were lost in all of his clowning around.