We Love Music: Beirut @ Black Cat, 6/14/11

Photo courtesy of
‘Zach Condon’
courtesy of ‘ElfieTakesPictures’

Zach Condon breezes on stage before the sold-out audience with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and smiles as he takes his spot in the center. To either side of him are the five other musicians who make up the current line-up of Beirut, sharing amongst the six of them about a dozen instruments, but this one-time solo bedroom project remains clearly Condon’s band and he looks comfortable in the starring role.

Beirut’s distinctively lush and exotically-influenced style is recreated beautifully live. One notices early in the set that Condon really, truly sings more than the average male indie vocalist – and when he does it is stunning. Presumably honed by years of projecting out over the massive crowds on the European festival circuit, he fills the Black Cat with his voice. When not singing, he alternates between six-string ukelele and trumpet and, at one point, switched to piano.

There is a sophistication to the whole band’s performance that set it apart. There is a trope in concert reviewing to describe musicians as having “raw energy” or “blistering power.” That is not Beirut. Which is by no means to say they lack emotional intensity or seem unenthusiastic about live performance. Instead, the band simply seems rehearsed – not surprising given the time they have spent with the majority of the night’s songs at this point – and genuinely musically proficient and talented.

As much fun as it is to see a great band that just learned to play their instruments play like they are flinging every last bit of themselves out onto the floor, it is a pleasant contrast to see a band like Beirut who take a more elegant, measured approach while still seeming engaged and with great presence on stage. They do not make it look effortless and they do not seem aloof. Watching them is impressive and tremendously pleasurable.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘C.Ridenour’
When Beirut first blew up back in 2006, Condon was 20. He has visibly and musically grown up in the ensuing years and has expanded from himself and a trunk of instruments in his New Mexico bedroom to a full band, which has had time to undergo some personnel shifts. Tuesday’s performance was, in part, to support the release of the band’s first new full-length in four years, Rip Tide. The lead single off the new release, “East Harlem,” one of several songs from the album the band played, was originally written when Condon was 17 but still manages to capture this increased maturity.

In general, the material off the August release (from Condon’s own label, Pompeii) seemed lighter and with more room and swing. A bit less swooning and exotic than the older songs, but sexy in their own way – showing a band who have shrugged off any criticisms of them as co-opters of anyone else’s music and have fully realized their own sound while still unabashedly wearing their inspirations on their sleeve.

Brittany has tried to leave DC, it just never lasts. She has lived in Chicago, California, and China – but she always comes back home. Brittany is a drinks, nightlife, and style correspondent for We Love DC. Between columns, you can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, or standing by the bar. Email her at brittany(at)welovedc.com.

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