The last time I mentioned Beirut on this blog, drummer Peter Breslin (of Stochasticactus) remarked that to his "jaded ears," they "sounded like heavily diluted 'World Music.'" While I understand why you'd have that reaction if you were expecting authentic Balkan fire -- or even high-intensity ersatz Balkanisms à la Slavic Soul Party -- that's not really what this band is about. If, on the other hand, you're intrigued by the idea of a large, acoustic, mostly guitar-free indie rock band fronted by a fluegelhorn-playing sensitive boy whose formative influences as a songwriter are Stephin Merritt and Jacques Brel, sprinkled with just a light dusting of Kocani Orkestar, then you will probably see the group in a more positive light. Oddly enough, this improbable blend seems to be exactly what quite a lot of people are looking for, because it seems like everyone is going absolutely apeshit for Beirut, which played their first-ever gig just 16 months ago.
Of course, that first gig was, from all reports, a little rough. Last night's hit at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (a familiar scene) was the first night of their tour in support of their sophomore release -- a series of love letters to French cities called The Flying Club Cup -- and not everything went precisely according to plan. One tune -- a song by Owen Pallett -- had trouble getting off the ground, and then crashed and burned badly when the group hit the bridge in different keys. After some animated onstage discussion ("Welcome to Beirut rehearsal," frontman Zach Condon joked), they tried it again, but it was still a bit shaggy. The band eventually found their stride on more familiar material, like the slow-building "Postcards From Italy." The instrumentation is varied -- almost everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist -- and attractively ear-catching. (Glock with violin! Horn with accordion! Ukulele ukulele ukulele!) But Beirut really is fundamentally about Condon's songwriting and plaintive, slightly warbly voice. Honestly, I go a bit hot and cold on both, but with Calexico retreating into more conventional territory of late, it's definitely refreshing to see another talented and buzz-worthy indie band that have their ears open to music beyond America's borders.
FifthVeil (made up of players from Bard College) opened with a very credible version of Osvaldo Golijov's The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Clarinettist Conor Brown, who did an admirable job with the klezmer inflections, mentioned to me afterwards that the group had gotten some coaching from David Krakauer, which is obviously a very nice thing to have on a piece like this.
Tickets to this event were provided by Wordless Music.
Other good writeups:Café Eclectica Music (Kyle Dean Reinford)
Brooklyn Skeptic (plainclothesman)
More photos below the fold...