photos: Beirut at Paramount Theatre
words + photos: Everly Jazi
Pianist Aaron Arntz played the now-unmistakable keyboard intro to “Santa Fe” as frontman Zach Condon sung the vague, revered lyrics. Backed by vocalists Kyle Resnick and Ben Lanz, the band kept the simple tune flowing, approaching the chorus. “Sign me up,” they sang as the lights simultaneously went out, music stopping. The effect lasted only for a second, then the band played again. “Sante Fe,” they continue. The pause exemplified the drama Beirut created Wednesday night for fans as they became immersed in the multilayered instrumentation.
An indie folk favorite for over a decade, Beirut started with just Condon in New Mexico. "My childhood friend from Santa Fe is here,” Condon told the crowd after the hit, “I'm always embarrassed to sing that song in front of him.”
But, the night in Seattle was not just crowd favorites. The long set featured many tracks from this year’s Gallipoli. Fitting with their new LP’s namesake, the Balkan influence on tracks was definite. The beat maker for “Family Curse” turned on and Condon harmonized over it, as Arntz took out an accordion. Pink and orange lights filled the stage and the brass crescendo went in and out against the mood-defining drums. Towards the end of the tune, Condon switched from his flugelhorn to a synthesizer and the churning instrumentals spun a little until a fade-out.
The full, standing crowd cheered wildly for the mid-set performance of “Postcards from Italy,” as Condon played ukulele with only one light on, spotlighting him. After the first verse, the band came in and red lights shined on their six faces. In the chorus, Resnick and Lanz played trumpet and trombone, respectively. As they played the chord progression signaling the bridge, all percussionists dropped out and the mix of ukulele strumming and brassy melody gave way to all three vocalists singing along with the crowd. The song kept rising with Nick Petree playing a pattern of bass drum and cymbals. Condon switched out his ukulele for flugelhorn and Petree started a full-on snare part. Arntz kept on with his accordion and Paul Collins walked up the bass, all until the sudden end to the track.
When Condon emptied his spit valve on the hand-woven rug, he told the crowd, “I'm just getting spit all over the carpet.”
Someone yelled, “Where’d you get that carpet?” Another saying, “It ties the room together.”
Beirut showed off their complex instrumentals for the remainder of the night. The new title track started with a staccato beat created by Arntz’s two keyboards, a piece fit for one of the crocodiles from Disney’s Fantasia. Brass rang through while Petree carried the rhythm with one soft mallet and one traditional stick. Resnick supplemented with his wooden guiro and the show escalated in a whirlwind cacophonous manner. Collins seemed as relaxed as the elevator-like keyboard beat, playing his acoustic guitar with his leg up and only socks on his feet. Condon opted for synthesizer and the crowd could see his absorption in the song.
The band took a break, Condon and Arntz walking in first after the encore. Condon sang as if pleading to the audience as Arntz, barely visible in the darkness, played the melody of the intense ballad, “Un Dernier Verre (Pour la Route).” The others came onto the stage and soon it was time for “We Never Lived Here,” a track that became the star of the night. The brass made deliberate and melodic sounds, and vocal cooing was layered underneath. Petree waited with the drums, coming in after the second verse in the most enthralling way.
The end of the comprehensive set was stunning, the band playing their first LP’s title track, “The Gulag Orkestar,” as a finale. A great Balkan trumpet melody enticed fans as Condon played a purposefully choppy tone his keyboard. The slow-tempo tsunami of harmonies lingered more when the vocalists all came in. Arntz played the upright piano and the brass closed things out.