Flugelhorns & ukulele aplenty from Beirut

10 years on from their debut album, Beirut brought their blend of Balkan folk to Luxembourg for the first time, playing Rockhal on Wednesday night.

Started as a solo project by Zach Condon back in 2006, it quickly transformed into a touring band with many from those early days still with him today. 10 years on from “Gulag Orkestar” Condon has gone through marriage, divorce and exhaustion after extensive touring which explains the four years’ absence between the last two records. Now back with their 4th record “No No No” out on the wonderful 4AD records they have a new focus and drive.

Support last night came from local act Seed to Tree who created the perfect foil for the upcoming Beirut with their folk sentiments accompanied occasionally by a sparse mandolin whilst delving into some atmospheric soundscapes on “Wondering”. Over the last few years they have cemented themselves as one of the leading local bands and tonight just proved once more why, with a thoroughly accomplished set setting us up nicely for Beirut.

Arriving onstage to a slightly muted welcome, Condon and his 5-piece band consisting of Trombone, trumpet, accordion and ukulele along with the conventional drums, keyboards and bass kicked off the evening with “Scenic World” before moving swiftly into “Elephant Gun” which immediately set the tone for the night, with the brass section sweeping you up in the joyous Balkan jaunt which has become their signature sound.

Songs like “No No No” from their last album, whilst catchy don’t hold quite the same charm as the likes of “The Akara” which provided a darker more expressive sound whilst still achieving a polka-inspired rhythm and lively melody through the brass section and Condon’s vocals.

There does seem to be an intention to progress the sound somewhat on the new album, whilst still keeping the Balkan flow, but when the sound is diluted you end up with a few too many midtempo tracks that begin to blend into one another, fortunately they still have the likes of “Postcards From Italy” to bring it back.

As they began to get into the second half of the set the tempo was taken up a notch with the introduction of some synths on the likes of “Fener” & “The Rip Tide” which gave the sound a new refreshing dynamic.

“Nantes” got the biggest reaction up to that point with the crowd singing along for the first time before an encore consisting of a “A Hawk and A Hacksaw” cover of “Serbian Cocek”, which saw the brass section take on solos before finishing on “The Gulag Orkestar” which is probably their best example of the Balkan sound, gathering a riveting tempo at the end.

Although the set was littered with classic Beirut tracks which got your feet shuffling away, there are a few too many songs that just blend into one another and it wasn’t till the introduction of some bright keys later on, that they caught your attention once more.
Now on 4Ad it will be interesting to see how they continue to evolve their sound, whether they will lean towards a more radio friendly record such as “No No No” or will they go back to their core sound as on “The Gulag Orkestar”? Only time will tell.

Rockhal – 6.07.16


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