A musically well-informed friend of mine enquired whether or not I’d be up for going to see folksie-indie tribe Beirut. He sent me a link to a marvellous music video (Elephant Gun – very Pina Bausch for those of you who enjoy German Dance Theatre), and with them sounding wholly inoffensive and quiet joyous, I agreed. So on Thursday we made our way to the absolutely spectacular venue, Manchester’s Albert Hall to spend an evening in the company of the horn-blowing American 6-piece.
Attending a gig completely uninformed of a band’s back catalogue is something I never do, however was told this would make the experience more exciting. And standing in the muggy damp of the hall seeing the setting sun gentle filter through the impressive stained glass windows, the rain gently pattering the roof, surrounded by an army of uber cool looking people, I felt I was about to witness something special.
The band didn’t ‘burst’ onto stage (despite the roar of the crowd), rather they gently hypnotised the audience with the understated beauty of opening track Nantes, a 1920’s-esque midnight romp full of undulating horns and accordion. Handsomely dishevelled frontman Zach Condon crooned softly through their many ballads and dancing ditties, including the aforementioned gorgeous Elephant Gun and East Harlem. However, one can’t help but feel the acoustics of the room led to his heartfelt delivery getting lost in the stratosphere of the venue’s high ceilings. Still, the naked-vulnerability of his voice was still present and spine-tingling.
Having never seen a band without a guitar, I was rather dubious as to where the power, the oomph, the grrr factor would come from – how a sound could be pushed into 3D maybe. I needn’t have worried, for I now realise there is nothing more strikingly moving than three men standing at the foot of the stage armed with brass. These moments where the boys embodied a kind of jazzy-Iron-Maiden aesthetic were delicious, particularly on concert closer The Gulag Orkestar, invoking images of the Old West, a kind of Last Chance Saloon.
Said well-informed friend thoroughly enjoyed the gig as a long time fan. He did feel that the stage felt less crowded than when he’d previously seen them (apparently they usually tour like a small orchestra) perhaps taking a fullness away from the sound, and that they lacked the charm of a second ukelele. He praised Zach for being on fine vocal form, his voice having matured beautifully. For me as an Beirut virgin, I adored the dream-like quality of their songs, the music coming from the stage like cigarette smoke, lucidly swirling around your ears, entrancing the listener into a euphoric daze. Combined with the grandeur of the venue, it was truly sumptuous experience, one that I’d wholly recommend and would be elated to experience again.