Lina Reviews Beirut’s Tues. Night Concert at the Black Cat

Lina Khan is PoP’s new music editor. She will review a monthly concert and in the near future provide a weekly agenda of who the local spots are featuring per readers requests.

A few songs into his set, Zach Condon made a confession. “I’ve been told we’ve played here
before, but for the life of me I just can’t remember,” he half-chuckled. For a musician whose
sound plays like an ode to hazy remembrance, the comment captured what Beirut best kindles: a
potent nostalgia for a time you can’t quite place, an undeniable gesture to memory without totally
detailing it.

Playing to a swarming crowd at Black Cat on Tuesday night, Beirut took the stage as a six-
member band with no shortage of brass, with two players alternating between trumpet, trombone,
and tuba, and Condon frequently joining them on horn. They opened with “The Concubine,” a
mix of humming accordion and playful percussion, before segueing to “Elephant Gun,” a crowd
favorite that gets Condon gently plucking his ukulele.

With three albums that span a staggering range of influence — Balkan and gypsy, electronic,
folk, early pop, and mariachi, to name a few — Beirut played a broad retrospective, with the
welcomed inclusion of pieces where the sweeping brass narrates songs, developing storylines
with unexpected crescendos and quickening tempos. Early in the set, “The Shrew” encapsulated
the part-drunken waltz, part-majestic fanfare into which a piece can ascend, as Condon, eyes
closed, stomps and claps.

In addition to sampling some newer tracks — “Santa Fe” and “East Harlem” — the band did
justice to timeless pieces like “Postcards from Italy,” whose hauntingly simple ukulele, layered
with a collection of horns, enacts a gorgeous hymn to a more sincere, uncomplicated past,
nascent young love, and a musky yearning for it all. “Those were our times,” Condon crooned
with his textured lilt, soaking in the memory, an elegy both triumphant and wistful.

Continues after the jump.

Even with plenty of exultant highs where thick instrumentation soared to the deafening, little
could beat Condon’s plaintive voice, whose raw power and impressive inflections induce
chills. With lyrics little more than sparse fragments and snapshot imagery, you get the sense
that Condon’s vocals just happen to take the form of words, incidental vessels whose precision
surrenders to their dense sound. “What can you do” Condon lulled solemnly, “when the curtain
falls,” drawing out the line enough to let each heavy intonation hang poignantly, before upbeat
percussion transforms the piece into a jovial dance. Though the more poppy interpretation
was a fun take on the weightier recording of “After the Curtain,” the additional percussion felt
excessive on other songs, at times overpowering a more soulful accordion riff or Condon’s slurs.

A generous encore captured both the rich sense of dwelling and lighter delight in chance that
Beirut skillfully balances. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band offered an experience that mimics its
sound: the details might go unremembered, but the feel of it lasts.

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