by / August 16th, 2011 /

Beirut & Owen Pallet – Toronto

The Phoenix crowd can sense something special tonight as the place is rammed soon after the doors open, inspired by a thrilling double bill consisting of homegrown hero Owen Pallett and globe trotters Beirut. Pallett begins the evening by displaying his awe-inspiring ability to create intricate musical layers on his own, opening his set with the Beirut cover ‘Cliquot’, (in fact Pallett co-wrote the song with Zach Condon, and sings it on The Flying Club Cup album). This is a double reunion as he’s playing with his former bandmates from Les Mouches, helping add an extra dimension to his back catalogue with the additional presence of rhythmic beats from the drums of Rob Gordon. The attendance of the supplementary band members helps energise the melody rather than take away from the sound of Pallett’s violin, as the trio made evident with their euphoric rearrangement of ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’.

Beirut emerge on stage and with the first accordion note immediately evoke feelings of world travel in the summer sun. Opening with the gypsy vibes of ‘Mimizan’ – Condon’s contribution to the compilation album Dark Was The Night – the sound of the carnivalesque swirl of horns, acoustic guitar, ukuleles, and, of course, Zach’s trademark warble, set the celebratory tone of the gig. Those smooth tenuous vocals initiate the band to start the build up for ‘The Concubine’, as though Zach is a conductor leading his orchestra through a performance at the Phoenix Concert Theatre tonight. Later in the song, he reaches for his trumpet and joins band mate Kelly Pratt to belt out the horn instrumental.

As well as the finely honed musicianship on show, the gig is visually stunning, with French horns and a twin-pronged trumpet attack fittingly filling the theatre. The troupe is comprised of stoutly professional masters of momentum: big hooks pump the audience from start to finish and the songs find their conclusions at just the right moment. The opening strums of ‘Elephant Gun’ elicite the crowd’s vocals, as do songs like ‘Postcards From Italy’ and ‘Sunday Smile’, which are punctuated with rapturous crescendos.

The set is sprinkled with songs from new album The Rip Tide. ‘East Harlem’ has some of Condon’s most touching lyrics: “another rose wilts in East Harlem/ And uptown downtown a thousand miles between us/ She’s waiting for the night to fall/ Let it fall, I’ll never make it in time”, delivered in his idiosyncratic warble, sounding at both times familiar and totally new. ‘Santa Fe’, meanwhile, boasts a cheery keyboard melody and is more honed than previous efforts, with it’s battened down arrangements. Crowd favourite ‘Nantes’, which hangs on the fragile wail of Condon’s voice develops into a celebratory sing along. The instruments stutter slowly but burst into life, building an almost raucous tone, which is all the more impressive considering the humbleness of the vocals and the overall ease of the sound.

They finish with a bombastic version of ‘My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille’, ending the set in a gorgeously playful conclusion. Owen Pallett joins them for two tunes, the rollicking ‘Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)’ and final track ‘Gulag Orkestar’ where two audience members climb on top of the speakers and waltz, a hauntingly beautiful sight to round off the joyous evening. Tonight saw Condon run the gamut of his musical influences, from gypsy music to French chanson to Mexican marching songs and electronic; all of which have become the foundation of Beirut’s sound. Zach Condon has always sounded unique, but it was always easy to tell where his influences came from. However, with the introduction of new songs from The Rip Tide, he and his band have developed a style of music that belongs distinctly and uniquely to them.