Beirut is a cultural collage of musical styles, incorporating eastern European gypsy feeling, Middle Eastern strings and psychedelic experimentation. These core components are provided by ukuleles, keys, violin and accordion, as well as a range of brass, principally trumpets. The variety of instrumentation alone is sufficient to cause listeners to take notice, but when these elements begin to swirl around the dolorous voice of Zack Condon, Beirut become something very special. Their work has a real depth of melody and musical understanding which seems to elude the majority of contemporary pop artists and shows real vigour and personality. Their best work brings vivid images to the imagination; taking listeners to idealised Moroccan bazaars, decadent Parisian cafés or raucous German drinking halls.

Having just released their second album, 'The Flying Cup', the group are riding the crest of a wave of critical acclaim. Beirut has only been a band proper for little more than a year. Originally the group was the solo venture for front man and lead composer Condon, but, when his initial effort, 'The Gulag Orkestar', began to garner international attention, a full band was formed to take the material on the road. Now a fully fledged ensemble, with Condon firmly at the centre, the group is seemingly destined for great things.

Taking the stage at London’s Roundhouse – one of the finest venues in London – this evening, the group are met by thousands of their fans. For a group with such a short history, they have amassed quite a following and every seat is taken tonight. Indeed touts on the pavement were asking for £50 for a £15 ticket – places were in real demand. The group open with the first track from their latest album, 'Nantes', and immediately the quixotic charm and beguiling character that has made the group so adored becomes apparent. These are fully realised orchestral pieces presented in a stripped down and thoroughly modern setting. There is also a real folk feel to the work, with the audience growing in their participation as the group work their way through material from both of their records.

Beirut sound like the carnival at the rear of an invading army, a maudlin celebration at once profound and jovial, able to change the mood as quickly as they change key. They seem wise beyond their years, tired from the journey, even though their key protagonist is only in his early 20's. And it is Condon who really is the star of the show. While his lyrics can lack a little insight at times, his delivery more than compensates. His lilting, morose style is filled with poise and gravitas, loading with a universal meaning, from which each can take their own message. The man has real talent and will only improve with time.

As the set, however, progresses a formula begins to appear in the band's work. A number of ukuleles, between one and three, lead off each piece. They are joined by Condon’s voice, soaring above the maelstrom and into the rafters of the building, then these components are used to build to a faltering climax and are then joined by the rest of the band in another full waltz. Initially this trick pays off spectacularly; each track is warmly welcomed and applauded by the audience. The skeletal melodies behind the songs are given time to parade their own singular beauty before they are fleshed out and given form by the full band. Yet, this structure becomes virtually procedural during Beirut’s performance tonight. While they obviously have the depth of talent to offer variation and improvisation on their recorded work they stick closely to what they have prepared in the studio, working through their preordained set.

This is not to say the group do not play without passion. Each note from each horn is delivered with searing intensity and crystal clarity. At times the group evoke tear jerking nostalgia for the dead in an imaginary war, making the listener feel genuine momentary loss. Mostly, however, the group provide a sense of warmth and companionship. After the show they return from a triumphant encore. Opening with the title track from their first record the group once again show their ability to blend contemporary tunes with traditional embellishment to create a unique and inspiring world. A top quality band in fine form.











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Commenting On: Roundhouse, London, 10/11/2007 - Beirut








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