Riding The Rip Tide
By Ryan Jory
Zach Condon, lead singer and song-writer for the band Beirut, started his musical career by recording his first full length album in his bedroom at the young age of 17. He is now on a major tour and has sold out the 930 club in Washington, DC, two nights in a row (December 13-14). Beirut has recorded several albums since their first (Gulag Orkestar), the most recent being The Rip Tide.
As I approached the 930 Club with my friends on a cold DC night, my heart was racing with anticipation. We handed our tickets to the club staff, who stamped our hands signifying that we were under 21 years old. We rushed into the main stage area to find only 20 or 30 people there. Such a small crowd was not very surprising because while the doors to the club open at 7:00, Beirut would not go on until 9:30. Such timing gives the 930 Club it’s name. We then prepared ourselves for the long wait.
I was so excited to see Beirut because they are the best up and coming alternative band in modern music. Their sound is difficult to describe. Condon combines the sounds of American indie music with a heavy Eastern European influence. For example, Beirut has the usual bass drums and vocals, but then mixes in accordion, ukulele, and a rotation of trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn, and something called a fluglehorn. Condon also never uses a guitar, which almost every modern band uses. His Eastern European influence comes from a short time he spent in Europe after he dropped out of college at the age of 16.
The opening band was a trio called Perfume Genius. Perfume Genius’ music was basically slow, boring piano riffs with sad singing. It was some of the most unremarkable music I have ever heard in my life. I am sure the band has some fan base, considering the fact that they opened for Beirut on a major tour, but I was not at all impressed. I stood and watched as my feet slowly started to ache more and more. Perfume Genius played their last few songs as the time neared 9:00. They exited to a smattering of applause while the crowd and I became increasingly excited see Beirut.
Finally, as the venue filled to capacity, Beirut casually strolled on stage. The two horn players walked out first followed Condon himself, then the bassist, the drummer, and the accordion player. Condon came on looking shy, with an innocent and modest demeanor. Throughout the whole show he seemed truly passionate about his music and wanted nothing more than to do what he loves. Maybe this is why his music fits no ordinary formula. He just made what he was inspired to make, resulting in brilliant music.
One of Beirut’s first songs that night was “Scenic World,” a song from Gulag Orkestar. This song is a perfect example of Beirut’s sound because it is led by accordion, vocals, and a strong horn section. Condon’s heavy vibrato echoed through the crowd: all eyes fixed on his young face, and all mouths open in awe.
I do not know whether the 930 club did this, or Beirut, but several strings of white and red lights were strung above the stage. The lights came out over the crowd, and flashed along with red and white lights on the stage during the climax of each song. The lights added a vibe to the show like nothing I have ever seen. Most concerts have colored lights going on all the time, and at most electronic concerts, intense light and laser shows are common place. However, this subtle addition to a normal stage was very attractive. The lights combined with the constant horn playing oddly made me feel like I was at some mariachi band concert in Mexico.
Beirut played each song with perfection and finesse. Condon sang every note on key and added his fluglehorn at only the perfect times. Each note of each brass instrument was clear and beautiful. The concert was absolutely flawless. When they played their most popular song, “Postcards from Italy,” the crowd went wild. The crowd on the balcony sat at the bar and drank in the ambiance. Other types of Christmas lights were hung all over the club, giving the entire place a magical feel. It was the perfect environment to see such a perfectly mellow concert.
When Beirut finished their set and went back stage, the crowd could not have been more eager to hear more. After a few painful minutes, Condon came back on stage. He picked up his ukelele and played a solo rendition of his popular song, “Transatlantique.” It was perfectly done, just like every other song the band played. The rest of the band then came out for two last songs. They finished, thanked the crowd as usual, and left. However, the crowd was not ready to leave. They had just seen barely over an hour of probably the greatest concert of their lives, and no one, especially not I, was ready to leave.