Beirut brings the county fair to the Fox

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I swear there's a Santa Fean trumpet player in there.
Photo by Emily Savage

We teased you with the show mention in the Hangover column,  now here's the goods:

With flickering string lights strung from the center of the grand ballroom and splayed out brass instruments across the stage, Beirut's performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Saturday warmed liked a fancy indoor county fair. The sound, which can be bass-problematic at the Fox, was good this evening, near perfect for the otherworldly folk-marching band from Santa Fe. Ringleader Zach Condon switched back and forth from ukulele to his beloved trumpet, singing in deep baritone throughout, once stepping to his newly rediscovered favorite, the keys.

The setting was such that you could almost conjure a sea of couples waltzing in calico, Condon with a bolo-tie and trio of fiddles. However that was just a daydream while I waited in a very long line for the ladies room. In truth, hip couples were smashed against one another at the sold-out show, raising cups of beer and whooping for nearly every song, Condon wore his typical Communist-muted button-up and slacks, and sang backed by a trio of powerful horns -- not fiddles -- and a talented accordionist. As Condon pointed out via our conversation a few weeks back, "my accordion player can run circles around me blindfolded, so there’s kind of no point" (...in picking that up mid-performance in addition to all the other instruments he plays).

A few crowd-pleasers (excessive applause and energy): Gulag Orkestar's "Scenic World" and  "Postcards from Italy," The Flying Club Cup's "A Sunday Smile," the tuba-heavy, mariachi-oom-pah of "The Shrew." The best moments of the night came when all horns would swell together, like the aforementioned Shrew. But those slow, melancholy songs were perked up by the shorter cuts off new album The Ripe Tide. A new favorite, and the first single off The Ripe Tide, "Santa Fe" garnered less of an enthusiastic response than I expected, though some hollers nonetheless. In a few years, it will gain even more claps. Though Condon did remark, "There must be a few Santa Feans here." At least, I think that's what he said, his few words were muffled in my corner of the room.

After a tight, hour-and-some-change-long set, the band returned, as expected, for a requisite encore (side note: can someone please explain to me why the encore has become so requisite?). After playing two songs they again retreated. This time, for the second encore, Condon came out on stage alone, holding just a uke, spotlit and beaming. This is, after all, where Beirut started. A man alone with his instrument. Really, pretty epic stuff. He knows how to work a crowd, but minus the schmaltz. While the songs sometimes hint maudlin, Condon maintains a cool-cucumber presence of stage.  After his moment alone, the rest of the band swarmed around him again and we were treated to a satisfying tuba solo.

True story: the next night, after Beirut played a far more intimate set at the Independent that I did not attend, the tuba player stood out on Divisadero blowing his horn at near midnight. I woke up from the sound, threw on a peacoat and slippers and hazily asked "where did you come from?" (It was the only sentence my deep sleep-addled brain could form.) He cocked an eyebrow and said "My mother's uterus." He, and a few stray musicians, then marched off to another corner, still playing.

The lights go on, the lights go off.

Note: I did not shoot this video, clearly, but I do love it:

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