Beirut + Daughter – HMV Hammersmith Apollo, September 14 2012
By Edward Craggs
Beirut is one of my select few ‘London underground artists’. For someone within my music library to receive such an honour, two very important criteria must be filled – firstly, a back catalogue that dismisses the urge to fumble around for the skip function once I have committed to squeezing myself into a carriage at rush hour; and secondly, a sonic experience through which trundling towards the Northern line becomes rather novel. Throw Elliott Smith, The Tallest Man On Earth and Outkast into this mix too.
The reason I allude to this odd thought-process of mine is that I desperately hoped Santa Fe’s Zach Condon & Co could equal this sonic experience in Hammersmith. Admittedly I turned up pretty late to the Beirut party – my only experience before 2011’s The Rip Tide being ‘Mimizam’ from the Dark Was The Night (2009) compilation.
London-based trio of Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella (known collectively as Daughter) acted as the only warm-up entertainment. After signing with 4AD in April, Daughter continues to build on the buzz created by The Wild Youth EP and single ‘Youth’. It seems the quickest way labels get their newly-signed acts into the mainstream is to whack them behind an aspirational sporting montage (see Tour De France ad), thus further publicising a distinctly average bargain bucket of female singer-songwriters. I’m glad to say Tonra is an exception to this rule and I am looking forward to hearing a full-length record in 2013.
Beirut have always been enchanting and humble enough to put off the New York hip crowd, but equally too much of a musical fusion to maintain any constant popular radio presence. However, the unique nature of Condon’s voice and influences is precisely why the venue was full to capacity. It was a joyous, youthful and expectant communal atmosphere – festival-esque if you will. The amphitheatric Apollo not only heightens this sense of communal excitement, but the light is cast in a fantastically eerie way (see highly professional snap).
What Condon has created over the past six years is a delightfully constructed homage to his musical influences, from Balkan to French chanson, mariachi to old-fashioned indie folk. Perhaps the term ‘world music’ does have some substance after all.
There is always a feeling of a thematic concept behind each record and this played true from the opening ‘Scenic World’ to climatic encore-closing ‘Gulag Orkestar’. Between this, Beirut alternated between EPs and albums, never playing a track from the same record consecutively. Even ‘Elephant Gun’ (from the EP by the same name) and ‘Carousels’ (from the EP Lon Gisland) got a look-in, as well as a pleasantly upbeat cover of A Hack and A Hacksaw’s ‘Serbian Cocek’ – infectious tuba bass line included.
There was much criticism from various sides that their latest album, The Rip Tide, was too pop orientated and devoid of the foreign influences that made band’s previous works so enticing. In actuality that record was at the heart of the unique sound Condon had been carefully crafting for years, and the fact that tracks such as ‘Santa Fe’ and ‘Port of Call’ fell neatly in-between older hits is a testament to this. The crowd notably went apeshit for ‘Nantes’.
So why did I still feel under-whelmed when the lights came up? The musicianship was spot-on, the crowd appreciative (notably the large guy in front fist-pumping) and the sound ideal. Perhaps it is the slightly apologetic nature of Zach and the band – a stage presence that sits somewhere between Julian Casablancas (without the swagger) and Morrissey (without the god-complex). The whole group, Zach especially, was clearly humbled by the occasion, yet it began to feel that the gig could’ve been background music in a side-street European café rather than a show in a 5000-capacity venue.
Despite this, my first live experience of Beirut receives a huge tick, and I will be catching them if they return to a UK festival. Until then, they’ll remain with me on the underground.