It’s Always Sunny in Beirut: Beirut at the Northside Festival

by Mary Maceda on November 22, 2011

in High 5 Freelancer,Music,Teen Reviews

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Zach Condon of Beirut. Photo Credit: Joe Grimaldi and Bailey Baffert

Unnerved by the threat of violent thunderstorms, most people decided to stay inside on the night of June 17th. Not among those people were the many Beirut fans who flocked to McCarren Park in Brooklyn in their shorts and sundresses to plant themselves with little ceremony and next to no waterproof protection on the wet, concrete ground. No, excessive moisture didn’t stop this relatively small for an outdoor concert, but enthusiastic crowd from enjoying the work of Zach Condon and his backing band. Audience members swayed, spun and slow-danced, gazed at the stars, the stage and their shoes, sang along and basked in the prolonged serenade, not allowing the elements to limit their enjoyment of a truly powerful performance. Those who didn’t buy tickets refused to be excluded, rooting themselves in the nearly vacant tennis courts adjacent to the stage’s courtyard, where some (this reviewer included) frolicked, a few weaved through the nets on their bicycles, many clung to the fence separating them from the stage and simply watched.

All this enjoyment would not have been had without, of course, high quality music. With a hodgepodge ensemble including a glockenspiel, flugelhorn, upright bass and ukulele to name just a few, Beirut created a unique soundscape inspired by Balkan folk music and, to a lesser degree, electronica. This concert, though, provided only a snapshot of a frequently fluctuating and expanding lineup of instrumentalists; Beirut started as Zach Condon’s solo project, an expression of the musical interests the native New Mexican acquired while traveling through Europe after dropping out of high school. Since its formation in 2006, the band has taken on multiple players and contributors, adding greater and greater dimension to its aural landscape.

The band’s idiosyncratic performance often favored emotion over technical achievement, to great effect. Zach Condon’s tremulously demure vocals suited his poetically plaintive lyrics perfectly. An accordion, ukulele and keyboards acted as subdued leaders for a lusty horn section, which added booming heartiness to each bittersweet strain. The pairing of shakily heartfelt delivery with touchingly emotional songwriting, in well-loved singles like “Elephant Gun” and “Postcards from Italy” as well as in lesser-known ditties like “The Shrew,” made for a profoundly and joyously moving experience. The ominous storm clouds looming overhead certainly didn’t detract from the deeply affecting atmosphere of the concert, nor did it suppress the significant reaction from the audience. After each unassuming “Thank you” uttered by Condon in between songs, one could hear at least one enthusiastic “No, thank you!” from the appreciative audience, who left the park that night feeling immeasurably pleased, if a little damp.

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