Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Live: Beirut

When: 2/7
Where: Brooklyn Academy of Music

I've never been really into Beirut, but I ended up with a ticket to this very sold-out show, so I figured I'd go see what all the fuss was about.

As it so happens, the band isn't really my "thing" - they use a variety of brass instruments to an extent and in a way that reminds me of high school concert band. When Neutral Milk Hotel uses horns, it's completely cool, but Beirut not only borrows the instrument from wind ensembles, but also takes some cues from their song-writing and technique. As a matter of personal preference, I wasn't digging it. More importantly and damagingly, Beirut also used an accordion on most songs. Accordion is not my favorite instrument to say the least, and having heard Beirut, I don't think fits well with horns at all -- too many sharp, harsh sounds. The constant nods to European folk music seemed a over-the-top and didn't always add to the songs.

That said, I'm completely down with the ukulele. I thought it was used very appropriately!

As performers, Beirut certainly gets an "A" for effort. They put on a pretty good show, with a lot of passion and energy. They have the slightly cocky attitude of a band that's been pretty successful for a while now, but it's hard to complain about it - they certainly still put a lot of themselves into the performance.

Photo from Kristianna Smith (from
Beirut frontman Zach Condon

For songwriting, Beirut is excellent, with a lot of variety, great melodies and careful arrangements (despite the iffy choice in instrumentation). Zach Condon's voice is a little melodramatic, but I liked that about it. He had the balls to really go for it instead of trying to be cool and mumbling his lines like so many male indie rock singers. All the instruments, despite my feelings about their use in the first place, were also played with accuracy and confidence, never missing a note.

For the last couple of numbers, the band brought out a strange orchestra/concert band to back them up. I didn't catch who they said the orchestra was but it looked like older high school or younger college students. They didn't have the best stage presence, varying from completely passive to obnoxious and disrespectful. Without a conductor, they were rather lost, always on the verge of falling apart. They didn't add a lot to the music, perhaps because they were mixed too low against the band, and the whole act of bringing them on stage seemed like an unnecessarily grandiose and gimmicky gesture that did more harm than good in terms of the true quality of the music. Bad choice, Beirut!

One other small complaint - the band played a four-song encore. No one is that good!

All in all, I wouldn't go back to see them, but despite my qualms, I enjoyed most of the songs. So if pseudo-French, pseudo-Gypsy indie folk is your thing, then Beirut is your thing. And if so, then they are definitely worth catching live - just preferably without the high school honors band cramping their style!

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