The first time I saw Beirut, I was completely unprepared. I had an idea they’d put on a good show, but I wasn’t expecting what happened, that they would walk off stage with my heart. Ever since then I’ve been eager for another dose, and managed to get myself smuggled into the sold out final night of this twelve-week tour at London’s Brixton Academy.
Zach Condon, flanked by a well turned out five-piece band, carried on where he left off last time; a journey through his wide repertoire of trumpet hooks that stay in your head all night, so many that you wonder how he keeps coming up with fresh ones.
On-stage we see an accordion, ukulele, double bass and a variety of horns, including the biggest I’ve ever seen, one of those ones you get in to play. Zach brings his trumpet on stage in its own case, which is cute. It’s all so heart-warming, making a 5,000-capacity show feel intimate. They hark back to a simpler time, when the only thing that mattered was melody and a proper hook. They’re not lightweight though, a solid bass giving them punch.
Opener Scenic World (Version)’s three-horn refrain sets the tone in majestic fashion, and Elephant Gun’s swung ukulele and trumpet melody brings whoops from the crowd, the band taking care to hold back on the interludes between those amazing hooks, then opening up the traps when it counts.
Live favourite Santa Fe, from their recently released The Rip Tide LP has the normally impassive Brixton technicians dancing at the side of the stage and Nantes, East Harlem and a version of My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille are lapped up by a crowd containing a surprising number of teenage girls screaming Zach’s name.
He’s an unlikely pin-up, still shrinking from the spotlight, keeping the conversation between songs to mumbles, but coming alive with a trumpet or when he can put that well-controlled voice properly to use.
“You can always recognise hardcore Beirut fans. They’re the ones waving a ukulele or something,” Zach told us recently. I didn’t spot any ukuleles in the crowd, perhaps they were taken at the door, but hardcore fans were in attendance, everyone here knew the songs from the first note.
It takes a while for the crowd to warm up, and some songs could do with swinging past a little faster, but warm up they do and soon they’re giving every trumpet sing-along their best shot. Zach’s clearly delighted at their reaction to every big riff.
Postcards From Italy is just wonderful, vying for the highlight with a pounding The Gulag Orkestar, both featuring the strange static sight of three men stood at the end of the stage playing horns, not moving but creating a huge noise.
The fellow strapped inside the huge horn even attempts a solo, which is brave considering the limitations of an instrument the size of a cow. It’s hard to play anything on it without it sounding like the theme tune to nostalgic children’s TV show Jonny Briggs. Which it does.
Too soon we are willing them back for an encore, which begins with the sombre, stripped-down beauty of Goshen and ends with a solo rendition of The Penalty, featuring Zach alone with a ukulele. It’s his show after all, the five people behind him just adding to a display of his singular talent.
It’s a special experience, seeing Beirut. Take the opportunity next time you can. Those melodies are still in my head and I’m happy that they are.