Beirut & The Vassar Orkestar @ BAM, Brooklyn 2/6/09
Seeing as this has already been Beirut week on Stereogum.com, I’ll save my trademark purple prose in dissecting this show for the Year’s Best Concerts post in December. Except for the next bunch of graphs because, really, it seems this week was a graduation of sorts for Zach. These shows and recent EP releases were the next big down-payment on the potential we’d been looking for all along, positioning him as an uncanny melodist and deft cultural appropriator, with all the charm of a legend leavened with touches of the exuberance a kid his age oughta have (see: every time his band would kick into the relatively rocking grooves of the Holland EP’s giddy synth pop).
At Wednesday’s Music Hall show I focused on the power his waltzes and world-weary melisma had on every crowd, morphing each show into a bacchanalia. Taking my seat in the ornate BAM theater I noted that this would be an opportunity to gauge the music’s live power stripped of that ass-to-elbow revelry. And then Zach invited everyone to get up and line the stage and I laughed. And got my elbows out.
The Vassar Orkestar — a big band of brass, double bass, and strings running 30-deep — joined Beirut for the latter half of these BAM sets. The arrangements weren’t revelatory (the most radical adjustment came to “A Sunday Smile,” effort expended there for good reason), but even in simply echoing and buliding on the songs’ naturally occurring counter-melodies, and in BAM’s gorgeous resonant chamber, the Orkestar’s addition translated to serious, sonorous power.
Regarding Holland, the EP companion to the Mexican dirges of March Of The Zapotec, credited to his Realpeople alter-ego: more please. The Realpeople laptop arrangements aren’t a total shock, not after Gulag‘s goofy computer-vamp version of the (essentially epic) “Scenic World,” but they do feel fresh, and promising. Hearing “My Night With The Prostitute…” and “My Wife, Lost In The Wild” translated for brass and acoustics was enough to give anyone faith that when Condon says the next part of the world he wants to explore is … “Probably nowhere. I feel like everything’s jumbling together in my head. I feel like I’ve explored all the palettes and now it’s time to look inward for inspiration” … it’s probably the most exciting quote he’s ever given.
This is an especially worthy photo set. Our photographer Jenn Perutka spent the weekend shadowing the band. So in addition to great performance shots from Friday, and some snaps of opening guitar goddess Kaki King, you’ll get a peek at the band backstage, warming up and cooling down, and some shots from Saturday when a fan threw Zach a mask. He wore it, of course; disguising himself in others’ threads is what he’s done on release after release. It’s only now that we’re about to see him strip.
Here’s your setlist.