“We need to name the fish.” Out of context, Jonathan Pearce’s declaration midway through the first of two thoroughly sold out shows at The Sinclair wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t caught a show by the New Zealand indie rock/power pop quartet, but of course he was referring to the giant inflatable fish behind his guitar amp, as if a behemoth was surfacing. After a bunch of inchoate shouts from the crowd, singer Elizabeth Stokes caught someone calling out the name of the tour opener, and she agreed that yes- Sidney Fish was a good choice. There was a strong feeling of connection between the band and crowd, and perhaps one reason why The Beths decided on a slightly unusual strategy to downsize the venue capacity from their previous tour, eschwing the larger Royale that they played last year in favor of two shows as the more intimate Sinclair. That was before their much-lauded Expert In A Dying Field hit the store racks and of course these shows sold out pretty quickly. (For those who missed out, you’ll have two more chances when they hit the summer festival circuit and play Newport Folk and In Between Days.)
New Zealand has been responsible for an inordinately high ratio of stellar guitar-based rock music when adjusting for population, with great handfuls of sonic treats from Flying Nun, along with lesser-known labels such as Xpressway, Ripper, Propeller, South Indies and more. The Beths continue the tradition, though taking more of a flavor of the sunnier pop side of things, echoing bands like The Bats, Sneaky Feelings, and The Chills. The quartet is tighter than a banjo G string and each member lends stellar vocals along with their instruments. They also had a novel way of introducing the band members after half a dozen or songs were played. Instead of the de facto leader doing the basic callouts, they rotated emcee duties as one introduced the next with a bit of kiwi humor injected. One thing the room learned about bassist Benjamin Sinclair is that he is leading the Year of the Blogs movement with his Watt-esque tour spiel named Breakfast and Travel Updates where you can catch up his musings from the road. New Zealand is a long ways away but the band has made five forays into town since 2018; I think a larger room is in their future for the next tour.
Sidney Gish pulled opening duties for the tour, and being in Cambridge was like returning to a second home as she spent 5 years as a student at Northeastern. Alone on stage, she had a very easy going and comfortable stage manner that was certainly helped by a supportive crowd. She’d play guitar and start building loops, sometimes employing an octave divider pedal to create low frequency bass notes that she used as a rhythmic underpinning on certain songs, layering her vocals on top that were stylistically in the neighborhood of Suzanne Vega or Joni Mitchell. Before one song she cautioned that it would take a while to build the base so told people they could check their phones or talk with their friends while the song was cooking in the microwave for a couple of minutes. It came out piping hot and delicious; Sidney, you must share the recipe.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.