February 9, 2009
During their hour-long set on Friday night at BAM, indie alternative-folk band Beirut was more than equipped for a street carnival. Between the six of them, they had: two trumpets, a trombone, a tuba, and a French horn; one string bass, an electric guitar, a ukulele, and an accordion; two keyboards, a set of drums (incl. concert bass), and a xylophone. As if that weren’t enough, the band was joined by three-dozen brass and strings players from Vassar College. The only thing missing was a cymbal-crashing wind-up monkey.
Beirut was performing at BAM as part of the "Sounds Like Brooklyn" festival, a weeklong showcase. While the Howard Gilman Opera House seemed like an incongruous setting for Beirut and their iPhone-toting fans—who usually come face to face in stand-room-only venues like the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where the band played Wednesday night—it also seemed appropriate given the band’s quasi-orchestral nature. “It’s very nice to be in a theatre,” Zach Condon, Beirut’s lead singer, told the crowd. After opening with “Nantes,” a low-key favorite, Condon gave the seated audience an almost-sheepish sideways glance and gestured for them to come closer. On cue, a surge of fans rushed the stage creating placid mosh pit. “Now that feels like home,” Condon said.
The band played most of the favorites, including “A Sunday Smile” off their second album, “The Flying Cup Club,” and the title track off their first album, “Gulag Orkestar.” They also played a song off their upcoming third album, due out later this month, which was recorded near Oaxaca, Mexico, with a nineteen-piece brass ensemble. Beirut developed its unique sound by layering French, Balkan, and Mexican folk traditions on top of each other—I found their music reminiscent of Manu Chao, Yann Tiersen, and even Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Westerns—but what really gives the band its character is the timbre of Condon’s voice, which seems to come from an older, more experienced singer. Listening to him leaves you awed and despondent: awed because it sounds so effortlessness; despondent because he’s only twenty-two years old, and already has accomplished more than you have.
The show started promptly at eight, and ran over two hours. Latecomers—accustomed to shows that run well past midnight—continued to stream in a half-hour into Beirut’s performance, hoping to have missed only the opening act. As the show drew to a close, Condon told the cheerful crowd, “This is our last song.” A mournful “Noooo” reverberated through the house. “I love that sound,” Condon replied.
Check out Revovler USA Podcast #15 which features a Beirut exclusive track 'Vassar Orkestar'. The track is a rough mix of song off Zapotec done with 32 Vassar students recorded in a chapel on campus. You can stream or download an AAC file of this podcast and all other Revolver podcasts at: http://www.midheaven.com/audio/podcast/