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Outside of a football stadium, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone cheering harder for a brass ensemble than fans at a Beirut concert. Zach Condon is not only the indie rock royalty composer for wind instruments; symphonic instrumentation peaked right around the time he released The Flying Club Cup in 2007, and has regained its former status as a difficult thing a few musicians do well. Beirut, of course, does it well, injecting harmonious trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba and trombone into Eastern European folk, waltzing French chanson or blaring mariachi tunes.

The band’s Tuesday night show at Washington DC’s Black Cat was apparently a perfect date for slightly hip straight people, as evidenced by the number of men resting hands protectively on their lady companions’ shoulders. Of course it was, given Condon’s boyish looks and ancient baritone crooning romance into every ear in the room. Though two years ago, his voice echoed in the austere halls of the Sixth and I Synagogue, he brought enough aggression and profanity to seem at home in the rock club. Fans cheered wildly to the opening tones of “The Concubine” as drummer Nick Petri’s backbeat pushed the folky song into dance territory. Next, Condon took up his ukulele and confidently strummed a few chords. The woman behind me shrieked “It’s too early! It’s too early!” to her friend, but Condon nonetheless played “Elephant Gun” to singing, swooning fans. He tossed his hair and grinned as the capacity crowd enthused before him. “I was told we’ve played here before,” he admitted, “but I can’t for the life of me remember it.”

This show fell just days after Beirut headlined Bonnaroo, and the festival largesse remained. Condon danced across stage and raised his arms emphatically as he elegantly slurred cryptic lyrics. Condon and crew drew from albums, EPs and compilations without regard for expected set order, striving instead to blend the diverse Balkan, French and Latin styles of each release with a few peeks at upcoming album The Rip Tide. The energetic homage to his hometown, “Santa Fe” showed that Condon has pop chops on top of his meticulous classical composition skills while the gentle lullaby “East Harlem” calmed the mania rising throughout “Nantes.” Even the playful “Mimizan,” from 2010’s Dark Was the Night compilation, hushed the room. Appropriately, they closed their set with “After the Curtain,” during which accordionist Perrin Cloutier embellished the synth lines into an accordion solo that was equal parts music and Jazzercise.

The lengthy encore began when Condon sat before the piano for the mid-tempo “Goshen”, but the boisterous mid-encore performance of “Carousels” drew the most rabid fan response. If bobbing and swaying counts as dancing, we were all dancing happily. During “Mount Wroclai,” a short, punky looking man standing near me unleashed his most enthusiastic moves, thrashing, heaving, and bounding back and forth with unexpected zeal given the late hour. “Gulag Orkestar” ended the night on an ominous note before the lights came up and everyone was reminded that they would have to go to work the next morning.

by Katie Bolton
[Photos: Devyn Manibo]

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