Zach Condon’s influences are all over the map—figuratively and literally.
Condon started Beirut as a solo project in his Santa Fe bedroom; it’s since blossomed into a group that draws inspiration from the musical heritage of Slovakia, Italy, Germany, Mexico, France, Barbados, and, on Beirut's new album, Gallipoli.
Those creative confluences came together majestically at the Palace Theatre on Saturday night during Beirut’s 100-minute set.
Brass featured front and center throughout the performance, as Condon was flanked by Kyle Resnick on trumpet and Ben Lanz on trombone, with drummer Nick Petree, bassist Paul Collins, and keyboardist/accordionist Aaron Arntz on a series of risers at the back of the stage. The mix was immaculate, with the lush arrangements ringing out through all corners of the room, augmenting Condon's sonorous vocals.
There is a refined subtlety to Beirut's music, which arrives as if on a summer breeze through an open window in Gibraltar with a pungent scent of the sea in the air. Condon's lyrics celebrate the wonder of travel and the journey to find ourselves, while glorifying getting lost in that process and the power in what we see when we unexpectedly take a wrong turn. No matter where you go, there you are, as it has famously been said.
The set was appropriately heavy on Gallipoli material, including eight of the album's twelve tracks. The new material features an underlying electronic pulse, which broadens the band's plaintive sound and allows them to experiment. Still, at the core of Beirut's tone is Condon's lilting mandolin, as well as the buoyant brass trio. When Condon joined with Resnick and Lanz, their horns elevated the spirits of the crowd with a vibrant swing that echoed bossa nova, French cabaret, and Balkan brass.
Condon was shy and soft-spoken between songs, as if he’d already revealed too much of himself through his music. His demeanor was a sharp contrast to the adventurous nature of Beirut's sound, which seemingly dares us to explore these lands that Condon sings of so fondly, to see if our experiences overlap with his.
The older songs that peppered the set ("Postcards From Italy," "Scenic World," "In the Mausoleum," "Nantes") played out like affectionate offerings of thanks to long time fans who have stuck with him from the start. And ending the evening with "The Gulag Orkestar" was a touching way to connect Beirut's current sound to the band's humble origins.
Throughout the performance, Beirut conjured up warmer climates that seemed far away from the snow-covered streets of St. Paul. But Condon's evocative lyrics and the band's worldly arrangements brought those places tantalizingly within our reach. And as we all filed out of the club into the brutal teeth of another storm, Beirut's tunes served as an inspiration to get lost within their music until spring arrives—or at least book tickets to travel somewhere that Condon vividly brought to life in his songs.
A note about the opener: Helado Negro started the night with a wonderful set featuring tunes from its forthcoming album, This Is How You Smile, along with some older favorites. Roberto Carlos Lange was flanked by two multi-instrumentalists, who added saxophone and violin to the electro-tinged Latin sound of Lange’s understated but elegant songs.
When I Die
Varieties Of Exile
No No No
Postcards Of Italy
The Rip Tide
Light In The Atoll
After The Curtain
Gauze für Zah
Serbian Cocek (A Hawk and a Hacksaw cover)
In the Mausoleum
Un Dernier Verre (Pour la Route)
My Night Visit With The Prostitute From Marseille
The Gulag Orkestar