Sure, Beirut’s brand of jet-setting, theatrical folk music may strike some as idyllic — the musical embodiment of an afternoon stroll down the streets of Paris, even. And it doesn’t help that the band’s catapult to indie fame was a one-off sidewalk performance in Paris. But Beirut’s set at the Greek Theatre on Saturday recalled a world-weary globetrotter looking to breathe a sigh of relief, settle down and bury his roots into the joys of domesticity.
Touring in promotion of the band’s latest full-length album, the resolutely pared-down No No No, Beirut’s performance was akin to a six-man parade. Frontman Zach Condon stood at the front of the stage — his expression solemn and content in equal parts. The band made its ceremonious entrance with “Scenic World,” a mainstay in its live sets and a crowd favorite that landed with an expected, raucous applause. Marching drumbeats, violins and horns melded into nearly two hours of expressive, reminiscent folk-pop. Hearing the band perform its most cherished songs, from the ukulele-led wistfulness of “Postcards from Italy” to the chanson-infused lilt of “Nantes,” the concert was an event not unlike watching fireworks on July 4 — no surprises, but a thrill to behold nonetheless.
“We played a show at the Great American Music Hall back in 2006. It was fucking bonkers,” exclaimed bassist Paul Collins mid-set.
In Beirut’s near-decade since its live debut in the Bay Area, Condon and his traveling troupe of musicians have marked a definitive spot in the indie milieu. The band’s wine-sweet portraits of blossoming affections and countryside travels don’t so much recall a particular era as much as they do the mood of “nostalgia.” Beirut’s tunes, at their core, are malleable things that wrap around a fond recollection with ease. As such, fans belted along with Condon as he sang stridently of “the times we had” in “Postcards of Italy” — it was as if everyone in the crowd had partaken in a road trip, and Beirut had played in the car radio for the whole trip.
Weaving throughout its expansive discography, Beirut plucked out a couple of deep cuts to punctuate the bevy of hits and No No No singles with a few left turns. “My Night with the Prostitute of Marseilles,” a bubbly, Magnetic Fields-inspired stunner, slotted itself perfectly as a segue from the ornate instrumentation of Beirut’s earlier work to the minimal backings of No No No. A band favorite, “The Shrew,” was a brassy, brooding waltz that burst into a hyperactive whirlwind of mariachi brass and horns.
Throughout the set, Condon carried himself with the stately grace of the parade’s grand marshal — ready to weather any storm, but skillful enough to steer away from any woes. His dulcet singing, harmonious and grand without melisma, once carried a wisdom that belied his youth, especially in the band’s first releases. Now that Condon’s nearing 30 — and the 10th anniversary of Beirut’s debut is approaching — he’s finally wizened up enough for his croons to match his newfound maturity.
Much of the conversation pre-empting No No No revolved around Condon’s personal plights — a painful divorce, creative roadblocks and outright exhaustion that warranted a four-year pause before No No No’s release. In his cool demeanor, he’s lost the childish glee of the band’s romp through Paris. In its place, however, he’s found himself — a profound breakthrough of self-assuredness in his band and his works, all of which are embedded into the minds and hearts of fans.
That isn’t to say that the band has lost its original draw as tender, heartstring-tugging balladeers. “I want to say you’re mine,” Condon pleaded in Beirut’s minor key closer, “So Allowed” — perhaps the most fleshed-out tune in the entirety of No No No.
Beirut’s performance was a charming retrospective — a celebration through its triumphs as a band. More than a victory lap, however, it was a way for Condon and the rest of Beirut to linger and step back, content in the pleasures of simply creating and sharing their dusty, nostalgia-driven anthems to the masses.
Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].