The members of Beirut had enough instruments on stage last night for a high-school marching band. If an inattentive concert goer wasn’t watching the band on stage, it would have been easy to mistake the folky, world-pop sextet for a monstrous 10-piece ensemble with an endlessly revolving set of members. That wouldn’t be too surprising, either, considering how the group started as the offspring of only one person—front man Zach Condon—who just needed some other guys to play what he told them to play. To everyone paying attention, though, it was clear that Beirut is a stable, satiated six-piece band, with the supporting cast acting as artistic foils to Condon himself.
This feeling of collaboration was only intensified by the night’s varied song selection, the set-list turning into a quintessential survey course of Beirut’s discography. Though the band’s current tour is to promote their latest album, The Rip Tide, the group began with “Scenic World,” a track off its 2006 debut, Gulag Orkestar, and then straight into “The Shrew,” from 2009’s March of the Zapotec. These two tracks alone offer a unique juxtaposition within Beirut’s genre, the first heavy on accordion and the latter sounding like the brassy soundtrack for a bull fight. By the time the group got around to playing material from The Rip Tide, first playing the woozy “Vagabond” and then “Santa Fe,” the group had already hinted at all the musical phases it has undergone since its conception. First inspired by travels throughout Europe and then travels to Oaxaca, Mexico and later to Brazil, Condon’s past songwriting always had a thematic element to it, central to his recent travels. With The Rip Tide, though, and especially with last night’s performance, it is clear that Condon—and, more than ever, his band—are melding everything from the past five years in order to create a well-rounded, complete sound.
As Beirut continued its set, receiving great cheers for the ukulele and accordion-centric “East Harlem,” the setting of the stage helped perpetuate Beirut’s worldly influences. Though adorned simplistically, with strings of red and gold blinking lights, the decoration nonetheless gave the entire evening an undeniable carnival feeling, as if little samba school kids were waiting to join the group on stage. Instead, though, the lights just kept the atmosphere feeling festive, even during the group’s more languid, silky songs, like the piano-based “Goshen,” when all other lighting was stripped away to darken the stage.
After a lengthy wait for an encore, Condon returned to the stage alone with a ukulele to perform “The Penalty” from The Flying Club Cup. The solo performance was a brief reminder of Condon’s role in acting as the band’s center, as its true creator. The encore bloomed into a nearly 30-minute, four-song affair, with the rest of the band (and Mishka the dog) joining him; the set dissolved into a bending, continuous melding of instruments that outshone the rest of the show as each band member showed off in their respective tuba/bass/whatever solos. The final songs performed were the title track of 2006’s Gulag Orkestar and then an impressive version of “Serbian Cocek,” where the focus of the performance was not on the front man but on the collection of musicians on stage. When the group left stage for the final time and the crowd’s couples stopped dancing, even the greenest of listeners could walk away knowing that they had heard music that relies not on Zach Condon, but on Beirut. —Marielle Mondon
For more photos by Eric Ashleigh, visit lefte.co.