Beirut is an obscure group. During a trip to Eastern Europe at age 17, front man and Santa Fe native Zach Condon found inspiration in the Balkan-style sound of the region, one coined by complex rhythm and punchy brass instrumentation. Upon his return state side, Condon began clashing these Eastern sounds with elements of traditional American folk music. This artistic tinkering resulted in the creation of a unique, profound and undeniable worldly sound; a sound that resonated through the hall of Montreal’s Corona Theatre last night.
Condon’s group was preceded by Iowa-born and Montreal-based indie rock group Little Scream. Lead singer and guitar player Laurel Sprengelmeyer took charge from the onset, vocally wooing the crowd into a state of serenity before shepherding her band into melodically sweeping, head-bob-inducing riffs. Sprengelmeyer completed the performance alone on stage with a hauntingly beautiful ode to longtime friend and colleague Sandy Pearlman, the band’s former producer who passed away earlier this year.
After a short set break, Beirut engulfed the dark stage with a mélange of light and sound and their song “Scenic World”, the crowd emphatically reacting to the first notes blown from Condon’s trumpet.
The band’s unique sound was visually represented by their unorthodox arrangement. Condon, oscillating between trumpet and ukulele stood front and center with trumpet player Kyle Resnick to his right and trombonist Ben Lanz to the left. Pianist (and occasional accordion player) Aaron Arntz switched back and forth between a Roland digital keyboard and an old-school upright piano, at times playing both simultaneously. Bass guitarist Paul Collins stood tucked away, almost hidden, on the fringes of stage left.
Of all the instruments present on stage, there proved to be one seemingly crucial piece missing: a lead guitar. Beirut’s brass heavy arrangement went without a lead cord, a feat that could not have been achieved without the incredible contribution of drummer Nick Petree. Head down and purposeful, Petree was a source of inspiration, driving the group forward throughout the evening with an unrelenting and dutiful demeanor.
The set continued in a start-stop fashion with Condon reservedly thanking the crowd after each song. The group played an engaging, roundabout intro to “Perth”; the set’s first song featured from the band’s newest album No No No. Condon introduced the 2011 smash hit “Sante Fe” from The Rip Tide simply as “a song about my hometown”. Here, white lights synched to Arntz’s keyboard strokes lit up the beautiful biblical mosaic featured on the crown of Corona Theater’s stage.
As the set wore on, it became increasingly evident that neither Condon nor members of his group seemed particularly adamant on interacting with the crowd. Their focus and energy were exclusively reserved for the music, for the concentration required to mix and bind a medley of complex sounds into a pure, resounding whole.
Hysteria filled the room near the end of the set as Beirut broke into perhaps their most popular song, one whose name is borrowed from a town located in the Upper Brittany region of Western France, “Nantes”. Irony unfolded as the crowd began to joyously dance and sway to lyrics describing the tragic loss of time associated with waiting for the people we love to find happiness. Beirut’s music has often been described as a collision of different sounds. In a 2006 interview with New York Magazine Zach Condon describes how he chose his band’s name based on the dualistic nature of the Lebanese city of Beirut, portraying it as a “chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.” By observing the energetically cheerful manor in which the crowd reacted to the beautifully sorrow lyrics of “Nantes”, I began to realize how Beirut’s music transcends the collision of sound to foster an environment for the collision of opposing human emotions. This is what makes Beirut’s music so moving and what made their show at Corona Theatre such a success.
Watch No No No: