Beirut at First Avenue, 12/2/11
Beirut December 2, 2011 First Avenue, Minneapolis There is a lonesome beauty in Beirut's music that permeates everything, making you feel like you're driving through the desert at sunrise on a cold October morning. Zach Condon and company have built what was a project originally started in Condon's bedroom as a one-man operation for 2006's Gulag Orkestar into a juggernaut full of brass, minimalist percussion and an accordion. On its surface, it seems like that description would be the punchline to an unfunny joke, but Beirut have found a way to make their extraordinarily unique sound appeal to a large audience and inspire that audience to show an incredible amount of devotion as well. On Friday night at First Avenue, Beirut demonstrated why that devotion is deserved.
The band took the stage with a simple "Good evening, Minneapolis" from Condon and got to work quickly with a three-song knockout punch of "Scenic World," "The Shrew," and "Elephant Gun." They were running like a well-oiled machine despite the fact that, as a group, they had very little stage presence. There were no antics, no improv moments and there was very little interaction between the band members. In theory, it should have constituted a slow-burn trainwreck, but in practice, it seemed there could have been no other way in which to correctly present the material. Most of it is weighty and introspective, drawing on complex emotions, there wasn't really room for an "everyone gets to show their musical chops" passage in the hour-long set anywhere and, truthfully, it would have seemed tacked on and fairly tasteless.
The middle of the set was culled exclusively from their new The Rip Tide, consisting of the sad yet reassuring "Port of Call," Condon's love letter to his hometown "Santa Fe," and the ukulele-driven "East Harlem." It was during "East Harlem" that something struck me: this was all so unlikely. In a broad scope, Beirut seem like the soundtrack to the most bizarre circus ever conceived, but with that song, and others like "Goshen," they can (and do) turn the jaded hipsters that make up a good portion of their fanbase into weepy puddles of mush.
They closed the set with "Carousels" and then came back for a well-earned, four-song encore that included "Gulag Orkestar," "My Night with a Prostitute from Marseille," and finished out with "Coceck." By then I was left both awestruck and dumbfounded as to how Beirut hits so hard with their unorthodox approach to song arrangements (a tuba figured heavily into Friday's set) and as to how this project ever got past being laughed out of New Mexico VFW halls and the like. It's a testament to the power of believing in what you are doing and infusing great passion into it, I suppose, and there is hardly a more powerful force at work in the world.
Critic's Bias: I liked, but did not love, Beirut prior to Friday night. That changed about halfway through "Elephant Gun." The Crowd: Mostly in their mid-20s to mid-30s, and there were more women than I've seen at a show in quite some time; they likely outnumbered the men. Overheard In The Crowd: "How old is that other trumpet player?" "Hold on, I'll look. We're friends on Facebook." Random Notebook Dump: Nothing exceptionally special happened during this set, mostly because it was all kind of special. For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Jayme Halbritter.
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