I’ve always had a special place in my heart reserved for Beirut. Whether or not I’ve listened to their brilliant and varied material for a while, I take comfort in knowing it’s so easy to press play on one of their records and I’ll instantly be in blissful heaven. The reason I hold Beirut to high esteem is because they were the first band who truly acted as my personal musical catalyst, broadening my horizons on artists I should listen to and enjoy. And for that I am forever grateful.
Beirut simply don’t have any boundaries. Zach Condon has experimented in all directions, crossing many borders to the other side of the world without fear, as originality in music is the most important aspect of reaching new legendary heights. Quite rightly and bravely, they have combined a variety of all the best aspects of a cultural music with a contemporary indie style. They have adopted sounds in Balkan folk, French ‘chanson’ music, electronic, synth and much more.
At first the use of these strange foreign sounds may appear unfamiliar and overwhelming, but performances like this one will put you at ease as the magnificence they create triumphs over any doubts. Therefore, when I saw my favourite indie-folkers were putting together their fourth album, I was very excited to witness their beautiful creations, not only by means of buying No No No the second it came out, but by attending the Beirut concert at the Brixton Academy on the 24th of September.
This first noticeable change to Beirut’s set up which hit the eye, was how the number of band members had decreased, there seemed to be a lot of empty spaces compared to normal. But this is certainly not a worrying progression for Beirut. Naturally, a lot has changed since the Gulag Orkestar days, with Beirut’s most recent two albums The Rip Tide and No No No, it is evident that they are no longer the bombastic horn explosion band they used to be, as they’ve adapted into a more relaxed piano heavy style of music which harmoniously works alongside the trumpet.
Therefore, there was no need for all the flamboyant instruments that once dominated Beirut’s sound. However, this does not mean they abandoned their old material for this gig. I was pleasantly surprised to witness seven songs from No No No, four from Gulag Orkestar, three from Flying Club Cup, three from The Rip Tide, two from their Live at Music Hall of Williamsburg album, one from Lon Gisland and one Hawk and a Hacksaw cover.
Fans eagerly awaiting, they began the show with the keyboard version of “Scenic World“. Regardless of whether you prefer the acoustic version or not, this was a fantastic way to begin as the enthusiastic smiles of the fans faces certainly matched the joyful electronic sound of the song, interlinking the two straight from the bouncy intro. These emotions soon turn to euphoria as the classic ukulele is picked up, we all knew what was coming next. It was not long until fans were chanting “let seasons again begin” with “Elephant Gun” coming into full swing. The audience was resembled one massive calm wave, as in unison we swayed from side to side.
The first song to be played from their newest album was the lovely little instrumental track “As Needed”. Although this received a mixed reception from the album release with fans questioning its warranted space amongst the other songs, Beirut certainly received a warm reception in London. Even though fans love to mumble and bellow the lyrics in a Zach Condon fashion, this was a great opportunity to sit back and appreciate the musical complexities of instruments performed by these fantastic bunch of talented musicians. However, it is the title track of “No No No” which delighted the crowd the most. Since being released in early June, fans had a chance to really familiarise themselves with this jolly tune and wait in eager anticipation. Much to our satisfaction, Beirut delivered it beautifully.
The most interesting inclusion was the performance of “Serbain Cocek”, A Hawk And A Hacksaw cover of Bulkan Biblical proportions. You can’t get more “oom pah pah” than this one. A welcomed party atmosphere spread around the crowd as these gypsy dance rhythms took control of the onlookers’ feet causing them to dance their socks off. The Balkan sound returned once more when the powerful anthem of “Gulag Orkestar” took to the stage presenting Condon’s acrobatic, powerful and emotionally surged vocals. There a few songs of the 21st century, let alone Beirut songs, which are more impressive live than this mind-blowing piece of magic breaking so many musical traditions.
Much like the length of No No No, the evening seemed to have finished far too quickly, despite a 21-song set, with “The Flying Club Cup” acting as the emotional farewell song to a very satisfied crowd still wanting more. Alas, there was no second encore. Beirut put on a phenomenal display leaving fans in awe, staring at the Brixton’s grand empty stage giddy with what they just experienced.
Words by Finn Brownbill