As the glossy autumn night descends on Del Mar Blvd, Beirut fans straggle past my patio table at Blue Ocean Sushi, the venue only two blocks away. I wash down half-priced sashimi with over-priced sake and follow suit.
The Pageant, St. Louis’ premier rock venue, is typical of the Midwest; a lot of seats with minimal dance space, coupled with a gift shop next door. The audience is a strange brew of undergraduate pseudo-intellectuals (no judgment), Pitchfork-reading teenagers, and (oddly) 50-something, Lacoste wearing boomers. I befriend an older woman (Jan) and her teenage daughter (Chelsea), curious as to what brought them to the show. “Oh you know,” Jan said, “we read about them in Uncut magazine, and…well I just like the horns.”
“I think they’re from New Mexico…right?” added her daughter.
I settle at the bar with the other music purists and sociopaths, clinging to my whiskey. A valium-addled French housewife in a dark sundress takes the stage with a red Epiphone SG and an earnest introduction: “My name is Lætitia Sadier. I’m going to play a few songs to warm you up.” Waves of crisp, electric jazz chords bathe the crowd, Sadier’s lilting voice resting comfortably atop the wake. The venue instantly shrinks to the size of a secret espresso bar behind the Louvre, the audience held in curious rapture. Like a 2nd grade teacher, she praises us. “Thank you for being such a good, quiet audience.” The Washington University students titter with well-traveled excitement as she begins her French tune, “Impossible Love Song.”
After a few guest appearances from members of Beirut, Lætitia Sadier departs the stage, and the bros next to me quickly break into a discussion on the Milos Forman film, “Amadeus.” His famous requiem is aptly referred to as, “that 20-minute-long song.”
The accordion player, Perrin Cloutier, stumbles on ahead of the other members, to minimal applause. No love for polka, it seems. The crowd swells with electricity as the rest of the band files in and breaks into the endearing “Santa Fe” from their new album, Rip Tide. Beirut’s commanding brass section makes the elegant European flavor all the more compelling. As an ensemble they are unexpectedly tight, each rhythmic accent expressed with effortless execution. They casually transition between songs, alternating instruments, pausing only to add essential anecdotes:
KELLY: “So we got to see Dolly Parton recently. Make sure you do that…soon. She’s not going to be around forever.”
(the crowd groans)
KELLY: “What? I mean, c’mon…in 20 years?”
KELLY: “Fine. She’s going to live forever.”
BEN: “Long live Dolly Parton.”
After a rousing rendition of “Postcards from Italy,” in which Paul Collins repeatedly thrusts his electric upright bass in the air, it becomes very clear that Beirut is, in fact, a collection of band nerds, who got their collective fashion shit together at an Urban Outfitters.
A cool, blue light envelopes the crowd as Zach casually announces, “Time to play this piano song.” Condon has the uncanny ability to make a 2000+ person audience collectively feel like the lead singer’s girlfriend at a rehearsal. There are no cheesy crowd-rallying techniques, no forced frontmanship. Sing-a-longs are nearly non-existent. Their onstage presence is intimately casual, as though our calculated input will be requested later that evening.
At the encore, Collins returns to the stage first, Hoegaarden in hand, before breaking into a brief a cappella rendition of “Country Grammar.” The subtle humor is lost on no one. The subsequent, raw rendition of “My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille” from Condon’s side project, Real People, furthers the good mood; I half expect a cloud of dopamine to emerge from the pit. Still, a permanent smile has been carved into my face; extended exposure to well-tuned brass overtones has infected my disposition. The concert ends as Zach hands his ukulele to a lucky, blonde gentlemen close to the stage. I close my tab and exit the venue, a conversation about studying abroad in Edinborough echoing behind me.
I pass the statue of Chuck Berry across the street from Blueberry Hill, unsure of what I just witnessed on stage: Orchestra geeks with hipster flair? Ethnomusicologists with pop sensibility? Brass enthusiasts disgusted with the death of ska? Who knows. The evening is best described In Zach’s own words: “I could only smile/I’ve been alone some time/And all in all/It’s been fun.” (“Port of Call,” Riptide) Cheers, Beirut.