www.immigrantscanada.comGulag Orkestar Dept:
MONTREAL - Beirut has come a long way. In one of their early Montreal gigs, in the fall of 2007, Zach Condon and his crew of rowdy New Mexico troubadours caroused about the tiny stage of the intimate Sala Rossa, drinking wine and having a merry old time. The atmosphere was rambunctious and exotic, much in line with the Eastern European ragamuffin romance Condon courted on his debut album, 2006's Gulag Orkestar. Remnants of that wild side could be found Monday at Metropolis, as Beirut settled in for the first of two nights. But there was a tinge of something else - something that might be described as maturity. After mining France, Western Europe and Mexico for inspiration, Condon has settled down; at the ripe old age of 26, he's married, owns a house in Brooklyn, and a dog. His latest album The Rip Tide finds him looking to America - with tributes to his hometown, Santa Fe, and to East Harlem, while using more traditionally American song structures. But from the first notes of opener Santa Fe, Monday, it was clear that while some things have changed, others have stayed the same. The song's shuffling beat and lazy groove were lifted high by Beirut's trademark horns. Wistful, funky and understatedly celebratory, it encapsulated everything that makes this band great. In terms of instrumentation alone, Condon has always set himself apart. As usual, he did triple duty - on vocals, trumpet and, by third song Elephant Waltz, ukulele. His five-piece band featured three horn players four counting him , switching from trumpet to trombone and sousaphone the latter earning a cheer every time it emerged . And let's not forget the accordion. Add to that his penchant for waltzes, heartfelt melodies, marching beats and swirling arrangements - all orbiting around his forlorn, deeply soulful singing voice - and you've got some seriously moving music. He lost himself during new song Vagabond, doing a crouched jig while clapping, then slapping his chest and thigh in time to the music. "Left the vagabonds / a trail of stones / Forward to find my way home," he sang. "Now the air grows cold / the trees unfold / And I am lost / And not found." He may be settling down, but Condon's restless spirit remains. And while it was elusive during the show's more subdued mid-section, that sense resurfaced in the second half. Three old favourites off 2007's Flying Cub Cup paved the way: Sunday Smile was reworked into a spare, harmony-filled singalong; Cherbourg was achingly beautiful, showing that Condon is at his best when he wears his heart on his sleeve; and Nantes, another gorgeous standout, drew huge cheers, handclaps and dancing. Condon was equally impressive on his own, delivering a breathtaking acoustic version of Forks and Knives La f te in the encore, before closing with Gulag Orkestar and the grandiose La Llorona. Beirut is changing; but given the rapturous reception the band received in the first of two shows at our city's biggest mid-sized concert hall, it's safe to say its audience is following. Montreal's Little Scream opened with an inspired set of charged, swerving folk-rock. Led by singer-guitarist Laurel Sprengelmeyer, and featuring Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry on drums, the band was clearly enjoying the opportunity to play to such a sizable and enthusiastic hometown crowd. Beirut performs again Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Metropolis. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ tchadunlevy, according to Montreal Gazette and editor's note: This review was originally posted to the Words a Music blog at montrealgazette.com/wordsandmusic div (www.immigrantscanada.com).
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@t Zach Condon, Gulag Orkestar www.immigrantscanada.com