After canceling two shows at the Bowery last November due to a spell of “extreme exhaustion”—which is totally believable in the case of newly 21-year-old Zach Condon—Beirut has finally arrived. Tonight is the last of its three-show run with former Arcade Fire violinist Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy. In fact, The Arcade Fire (whose lead singer Win Butler bares an uncanny resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite) showed up for the premier performance, along with Sufjan Stephens, members of The National and MTV’s John Norris—making it a minor celebrity-studded evening.
Pallett’s set was achingly lonely, but still somehow oh-so cute. He performed his mix of pop and classical violin loops, harpsichord swells and morbid lyrics (“I hear that death by burning means returning as a girl/But only by seppuku can I retain my virtue”) in front of a dainty overhead-projector presentation, which featured whiskered cats, magical cities, floating skulls and lovers’ faces beneath starry skies. Members of Beirut joined him for his last song, which may have been the highlight of the night—a gorgeous, celebratory eruption of horns and recorded harmonies that seemed to accomplish the lofty goal of Pallett’s latest record, He Poos Clouds: “Nobody who listens to it will ever again entertain thoughts of suicide.” Good job, man.
Beirut was cramped onstage with its violins, xylophone, accordion, mandolin, drum kit, tambourine, tuba and trumpets—all led by he skinny, baby-faced, wild-haired conductor Condon, the child prodigy of the family. He has tattoos of French horns on his wrists. Despite some comparisons made to Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and the reclusive archivist vibe of Gulag Orkestar (he recorded the record mostly alone in his bedroom in Albuquerque), Condon exudes happiness and ease. He assured folks that he was indeed 21 after someone in the front row handed him a Heineken, and politely apologized for shaking saliva out of his trumpet.
Unfortunately, Condon decided to sing several tracks through a bullhorn, which reduced is voice to nothing more than piercing static. It may have worked for Gibby Hanes and Wayne Coyne, but not so much for Condon—too young or something. Many audience members winced and stuck their fingers in their ears, but most seemed to appreciate the attempt (yours truly included).
At some point, Win Butler and his entire band, including Pallett, joined Beirut for one of their last songs. That’s eight Canadians, plus about 10 New Mexicans. But for whatever reason, this heart-warming and optimistic display didn’t seem out of place at an indie rock show.
Photo courtesy of Ben Chrisman