Words by: Eamon Foley
Beirut :: 09.24.07 :: New York Society for Ethical Culture :: New York, NY
On the road promoting their latest album, The Flying Club Cub (released October 9, 2007 on Ba Da Bing Records), Beirut stopped by the New York Society for Ethical Culture and entertained a keen capacity audience.
Their set featured a selection of tracks from across their repertoire, performed with gusto and a heady mix of instruments. Apart from the drums (played by Nick Petree with a perma-grin), the only other "traditional" rock instrument that appeared for all of three songs was the electric bass. The rest of the time upright bass, violin and accordion formed the core around Zach Condon's compositions, which meld a variety of brass and guitars offshoots.
Beirut was in good form and cantered through a solid set of short, gypsy clips. Although never really deviating from the musical script, Condon and his rabble entertained with their boisterous manner and banter. Their wayfaring sound is not to everybody's taste, but watching such a confusion of instruments come together was great, especially given the band's obvious talent and enjoyment at playing live.
A former church, the venue was ideal for Beirut's brand of heavily European-influenced folk rock. It offered acoustics that rolled the music around the hall, enhancing the romantic air, particularly obvious during their newer tracks where the French flavors shone through. Intimate enough that random interlopers could stroll across the stage to their seat, it made for laidback vibes and easy interaction by Condon and company. The crowd's enthusiasm would have been enough to make any preacher jealous, breaching Commandment number 10 – Thou Shalt Not Covet (my audience).
Seated in pews for the majority of the show, once beckoned for the encore, the throngs surged forward like crazed disciples. For their short encore (presumably curfew-imposed) the bass drum reverberated as Beirut's flock danced, packed four-deep at the foot of the stage.
The gig formed part of the Wordless Music Festival, a series of shows that juxtaposes differing musical genres with the aim of breaking down barriers between classical and contemporary music. Beirut followed Colin Jacobsen (violin) and Katya Mihailova (piano), two precocious, young classical musicians who made music by the likes of Chopin look like it was "The Alphabet Song." Successfully demonstrating that two contrasting styles are not mutually exclusive, they were joined by members of Beirut for an up-tempo and unpracticed recital that closed the warm-up set.
Although only playing a short set, I preferred the style and sophistication of the classical openers to Beirut, who were lively and fluid but a little too cartoonish and samey.
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