Awe-inspiring ensemble
Beirut - Live At O2 Academy, Leeds

Listening to Beirut’s music takes you on a whirlwind journey into a world of brass decoration and high-class dinner parties. With his previous three albums frontman Zach Condon’s unusual musical arrangements have slowly created an echo of vintage instrumentation across the alternate scene, boosted with the likes of Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear.

Live performances continue in a similar vein, with a group of musicians providing a party flair akin to the group’s lauded video ‘Elephant Gun’. We all wish a Beirut performance would provoke impromptu dancing, and with previous performances the room has slowly unravelled into a drunken, joyous stupor joined together with carnival rhythms and ensemble melodies.

Daughter, cut from the same cloth as Beirut, warm up with reverbed guitars and atmospheric rhythms but provide little variation from their washed out melodies. In comparison Condon and co.’s performance oozes flare.

The group have barely assembled on stage before audience members holler requests in woops of delight. With a slow start, each instrument rings out with its smooth, rich tones at the ease of the players. The ukulele introduction on ‘Elephant Gun’ quickly relaxes the room with spectators swaying to the brass rhythms before cheering at the band throughout a musical interlude.

Switching between ukulele and horn Condon is the conductor of his own makeshift orchestra joined by euphoniums, accordions, a double bass and trumpet. All instruments play magically, creating a congregation of split octaves, even encouraging the crowd to sing-a-long to musical duets and bombastic rhythms.

While Condon is less lucid than previous appearances he lazily picks up his horn to produce one note-perfect solo after another. ‘Sunday Smile’ highlights his meek vocal falsetto while ‘Nantes’ is a little piece of jovial perfection. His companions also push forward, with each person – and instrument – giving off a different personality. The awkward drummer gives each song its raggedy edge while the rhythmic accordionist is the backbone behind all three albums.

As each band member aligns for ‘The Gulag Orkestar’ finale, with the audience cheering at their feet, the pace whips into a marching frenzy. While the band quickens, keeping up the complex melodies and wiggling to each note it seems we’ve moved a long way from the high class dinner parties. However with their quirky compositions, endearing behaviour and awe-inspiring ensembles Beirut are certainly welcome party guests.

Words by Ruth Offord

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