Beirut Doesn’t Blow Up (the 9:30 Club)!

Bet you wouldn't want to run into these guys in a dark alley, huh???Beirut visited 9:30 Club last week for a set of shows that sold out with the speed of Usain Bolt.  (How’s THAT for accidental alliteration, 7th grade English teachers of the world???).  The crowd was a festive one, thanks to festive lighting, décor and what I assume was the pre-show consumption of a lot of eggnog.

Beirut is a somewhat unique band for this stage, but not without comparison. It would be difficult to describe them without referencing their Central European klezmer-meets-mariachi-brass sound that exists in the mid-tempo space between Sufjan Stevens and Devotchka. If you were to cook up a show from within this pseudo-genre, you would definitely start by pouring Sufjan into the pot, simmer with Beirut, and end with Devotchka at a full boil.

The more subdued klezmer sound that Beirut deployed for about half of their set is a cinematic elegy that would fit well into a film centered on an Indie Rock Prom (featuring Michael Cera, naturally). During “Goshen,” I actually watched couples dancing and wistfully looking deep into each others eyes as if to say, “I can’t believe that high school is almost over.” For some of the aforementioned, I’m pretty sure they still have a few months remaining…you know, just based upon the calendar.

Beirut isn’t happy-ever-after music, though.  It’s the soundtrack to a bittersweet and melancholic film where one doesn’t raise their hopes up lest they risk disappointment. This is a steady procession of mid-tempo middlingness, suddenly parenthetically notated by the relatively upbeat “Santa Fe.”  This splendid rendition caused flannel-clad torsos to move as only white people can, bobbing thoughtfully in place and occasionally on beat.

In fairness, Beirut’s beats aren’t the easiest to follow, as some of their songs play in waltz time, which isn’t the type of dance one expects at Indie Prom.  (Unless…the waltz has gone ironic? Maybe?)  In contemporary times, songs in three tend to serve as a sort of musical metaphor, summoning visions of Turner’s nautical landscapes or, with Beirut’s instrumentation, either Tevye’s lamentations or a gypsy throwdown.  Unlike the widely despised Roma, however, our nomads in question surely felt the audience’s love as Zach Condon’s well-trained and airy vibrato glided just above his bandmates’ elegant instrumentation.

Beirut’s music embraces recent trends, such as the orchestrated, Patrick Watson-esque cinematic sound that seems to be replacing the minimalism previously embraced by the hirsute elite.  At times, you might even call it….“Rococo”.  Part and parcel of that orchestration is the roster of instruments generally not seen in rock and roll venues, save for the occasional ska show.  Recent times have also warmly embraced the vibraphone/xylophone with a verve that would please Lionel Hampton.  And perhaps Condon’s jazz influences also can be cited for the omnipresence of trumpet, trombone, mellophone and tuba, which are more commonly found in a jazz ensemble than on the 9:30 Club’s stage.

Condon himself evokes the imagery of choirboy + Steve Zahn + pre-pill-poppinJeff TweedyAs if to solidify their Stuff White People Like street cred, the most recent Beirut record, The Rip Tide, also embraces elements of Paul Simon’s work that has most popularly been re-engaged by Vampire Weekend.

So, this isn’t the plaintive and contemplative oeurve of Sufjan, nor the carnival klezmer of Devotchka.  It’s thoughtful, melodic, and yet melancholy music.  It’s the kind of music one of the many cute young ladies in attendance might someday queue up while dusting her apartment with an ex-boyfriend’s abjured t-shirt.  This isn’t a knock in the slightest…they’re very good at what they do.  “Horses for Courses,” you know?

Beirut’s show ultimately didn’t measure up to the searing delight of a performance that Devotchka had unleashed on the same stage a few months prior.  Not that it is supposed to be that vigorous of an experience.  Even so, it ended a bit soon with a not-headliner-worthy set that clocked out at 54 minutes, plus a 10-minute encore.  Ahhh, well, I suppose that was fitting; it left the audience wistfully musing, “I can’t believe that [Beirut’s show] is already over…”  I guess even Indie Rock Prom has to end, sometime.






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