Beirut’s brass poetry brightens Vancouver’s Tuesday

Beirut with Helado Negro at the Orpheum Theatre, 2/26/19


On Tuesday night, almost everyone who considers him or herself a hipster in the Lower Mainland gathered at the Orpheum Theatre for Beirut, a project formed in 2006 by Zach Condon. Nearly 13 years later, the now six-piece band’s newest album continues the unique fusion of Eastern European brass music, indie styling and post-punk synth rhythm.

Beirut, for many, evokes the late 00’s, a time when indie music flourished in the tradition of lyric-based, folk-inspired bands like Neutral Milk Hotel. The Orpheum stage was simply arrayed. A plain white backdrop was washed in a variety of synthetic sunsets, and strands of light bulbs were hung from the rafters. In neat rows of three, the six multi-instrumentalists all occupied their own spheres on the stage like they were playing from different rooms and the audience was viewing a cross section. The space allotted to each gave them space to move around as if in a room of their own. But, as they played, their cohesion and harmonies came through clear.

After the opener, Helado Negro, a beautifully simple ensemble, Beirut began the set with “When I Die” and “Varieties of Exile” from their new album Gallipoli. The band then brought it back by playing “No No No” from the eponymous album.

A great variety of their work was presented: Beirut played “Santa Fe” and “The Rip Tide” from their first album. While at times the band’s distinct compositions make some of the songs sound repetitive and a bit formulaic, they make up for it by the instrumental range of their folkchestra. They moved from soft indie pieces that like “Elephant Gun,” which featured accordion and ukulele, to dramatic brass pieces like “Gauze Fur Zauh” where the trumpet and trombone solos provoked cries of affection from the crowd.

At one point someone made an unnatural deep growling sound from somewhere in the back of the theatre and Condon asked, with charm: “Is that a wolf? Or have you found the Sasquatch?”

The audience was active in showing how much they enjoyed themselves, and the band was having fun too—some of them professed having a deep connection to the North West. The main set ended with a classic: “Nantes.” Condon likes to start the best songs off slow, in a spotlight, singing as the band slowly builds up to the balkan brass music inspired choruses. “Nantes” received a standing ovation and people even threw roses on the stage.

After the high energy of “Nantes,” the encore felt more like an outro, but the audience was euphoric. The night ended with “Gulag” and its trumpet harmonies that represent the harmony of the band in general with their diffuse influences and styles. A very pleasant Tuesday.

Check out our recent interview with Beirut.