About fifteen minutes into the Beirut show last night, a very enthusiastic guy in front of the stage yelled out “hallelujah!” during a pause between songs. Zach Condon, the lead singer and founder of Beirut smiled back before looking at the seated audience and announcing “You should all be more like this guy.” The crowd eventually responded by getting up and dancing at the front of the stage.
Oneiroi and I arrived at the Fort Greene Masonic Temple before the last song of the opening band was over. Calling them an “opening band” is not as accurate as it should be, however. We walked in to a small room where people were seated and listening to a five piece group called Fifth Veil, consisting of violins, a viola, a cello and clarinets. While the group played beautifully, it was not exactly what we expected upon entering. We quietly proceeded to the balcony section and found ourselves two seats towards the back of the room. The group finished, and before long Beirut came to the stage. I had never seen the band live before, and was taken aback by two things. First of all, there were eight of them. While this isn’t uncommon these days, between bands like Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree and Architecture in Helsinki, it’s still a shock to see that many people take the stage with various instruments. What really shocked me was how young Zach Condon was. He’s twenty-one. And he looks it. I bet he has trouble getting into R-Rated movies.
The show itself was fantastic, although, as Condon eventually pointed out, it was much more like watching a dress rehearsal. There were often periods between songs when the band members would putter around the stage, talking to each other and preparing their various instruments. At these times, Condon would often talk to the audience, who were incredibly responsive. At one point the music stopped mid-song when they screwed up the key to their own song. At another point the show was put on hold when a ukulele player (who also played the cello, mind you) couldn’t find a guitar pick. No one in the band seems content to play just one instrument. One member played so many that we lost count. They included the clarinet, oboe, saxophone, xylophone, ukulele, guitar and probably ten others. If the guy had brought out a didgeridoo, I might have collapsed. The group all danced around stage during the performance, often switching instruments mid-song. Condon, whose voice often sounds a lot like Rufus Wainwright, would switch between singing, dancing and playing the ukulele and various brass instruments.
They played a collection of songs from their previously released EP’s and albums (Lon Gisland and Gulag Orkestar) as well as their newest album The Flying Club Cup. They played for about an hour and a half before leaving for the first time. The audience began clapping and continued for a while, but the band did not emerge for an encore for a while. Finally, their cello player emerged from backstage, telling us that they had a lot of people in the band all of whom needed to “use the facilities” and that it might take a minute. Sure enough, a few seconds later they all returned to the stage and played another three songs. The fans rejoiced. Hallelujah indeed.