When Zach Condon first oom-pah-pah‘ed his Balkan way into the indie consciousness, he found himself a warm home, snuggled in between the baroque pop of The Decemberists and the sonic parade of Neutral Milk Hotel, comfortably nested into a scene where the Rhineland reigned supreme. Hailed for his muli-instrument prowess, firm grasp on Balkan folk and Gypsy music, and especially his age (the wunderkind was a mere nineteen at the release of his highly praised Gulag Orkestar), Condon’s band Beirut were as cutting edge as they were ethnographically eclectic. Now three albums into their career, Beirut have expanded beyond their niche musical stylings and with an exercised sense of restraint on The Rip Tide, they’ve created an album that’s more focused on flexing Condon’s songwriting muscle and less on geo-tagging musical genres. In support of that album, Beirut brought horns a plenty to Houston’s Warehouse Live this past Halloween night, their first return visit since their momentous performance at the grand Free Press Summerfest music festival. Hit the jump for the full recap.
Adorning Warehouse Live’s rafters were strings of alternating red and white lights, giving the usually spacious Warehouse Ballroom an intimate and vaguely European feel. Much of the Beirut crowd, which has no doubt quadrupled in fanbase size since Free Press Summerfest, were in high Halloween spirits, all smiles and spontaneity under the guise of many a Tinkerbell, Waldo, and Pirate.
photo credit: almost-m
From opener “Scenic World” from their 2007 debut, Gulag Orkerstar into the Mexican-influenced tuba-waltz of “The Shrew,” it was clear that Beirut’s 19-song set wouldn’t be entirely focused on their latest release, but rather a retrospective on their full discography. Set staples like “Sunday Smile” and “Postcards from Italy” brought the familiar and the effect of being a world traveler alongside Condon. The accordion of “Cherbourg” appropriately brings to mind “La Valse D’Amelie” just as “Gulag Orkestar” whisks you away to Germany.
Many of The Rip Tide‘s immediate hits were also in play, from the hometown homage “Santa Fe” to the fantastically wistful “East Harlem,” neither recalling any specific regional idiosyncrasies, but still both rich in Beirut’s ornate brass-work which resonated throughout the whole of Warehouse Live.
From trumpets, tubas, ukuleles, accordions, etc., Beirut’s expansive instrumentation was a testament to old fashioned acoustic instruments, each reverberating with their natural warm tones and sonics. As synthetic sounds and 80′s-style production reign supreme for most indie-centric musicians and music fans, and genres created by simply adding the suffix “-wave” to the end of an arbitrary word, it’s truly a triumph to hear a symphony of hand crafted instruments whose resonance is manually manipulated by the musicians holding them rather than the wiring within.
Opening act Ramesh, the solo project of ex-Voxtrot frontman Ramesh Srivastava was heartily welcomed by his home-state crowd. Having just released his debut solo EP for free on his website, Ramesh had much to prove, and brought along an impressive eight-piece band to help him do so. Familiarity was key in his set as his much adored Voxtrot sound has been abandoned in favor of a darker, mature sound dabbling more in atmospherics and synthesizers than any actual twee.