The last time Zach Condon and friends played Dublin city in June 2007, it wasn’t exactly as triumphant as one would have hoped. For many in attendance, it was the first opportunity to see the band. It was their first headline slot also, having supported Calexico in the Olympia Theatre back in November 2006.
The set that night in Tripod was marred bizarrely by air conditioning (louder than the music) and a young Zach Condon who struggled to keep it together thanks to his imbibing of alcohol pre-show. The shambles became apparent when Condon was left on his own to perform ‘Hallelujah’ and fumbled his way through the Leonard Cohen song, forgetting the words and the chords.
This time around though, there were no such embarrassments. With no new releases to plug (though the band quietly released March Of The Zapotec in 2009), last night’s gig worked in their favour. The time apart meant the band had gained new fans and lots more people had taken these songs to heart which was evident from the immediate singalong to opening track ‘Nantes’. Live, Beirut’s seven-strong band (it could have been eight or nine, the show was jammed and State had an obscured view of the stage) is centered around an array of horns: tuba, trombone, French horn, flugelhorn and trumpets. Drums, accordion and organ provide the colour in the music. Condon’s songs is reflective of modern times and our ability to flit between strains of genres and places so easily yet hark back to places in the world’s past. His early international travels are still bearing fruit today as his music morphs from the Balkan gypsy vibe of debut album The Gulag Orkestar to the French influence evident on The Flying Cub Cup to the Mexican mariachi of March Of The Zapotec.
The setlist last night was a delightful mix of all of these influences; five songs from the first two albums each, three from Zapotec, ‘Elephant Gun’ from 2007’s The Lon Gisland EP, ‘Mimizan’ from last year’s Dark Was The Night compilation and three possibly new or unrecorded songs – ‘Cocek’, ‘East Harlem’ and another untitled song.
It was a testament to the band’s performance and their ability to hold an audience interest that their relatively hit ‘Postcards From Italy’ was dispensed with fourth in the set and was followed by the whimsical synth-led ‘Scenic World’ while ‘A Sunday Smile’ got the crowd singing along again. During the encore, Condon acknowledged his shambolic performance in 2007. By contrast, tonight was tighter than ever, the band were focused, the sound was booming, ukuleles were signed and as Beirut finished with a bombastic version of State’s personal highlight, the opening and title song from The Gulag Orkestar, we forgot about the last time, enjoyed the moment and looked forward to the future, with the promise of new Beirut material.