Beirut, live at the Hammersmith Apollo

If you died and awoke in Purgatory, and if it were genuinely a waiting room, replete with checkerboard floor and uncomfortable, green, plastic chairs – with a television mounted on the wall – Beirut would be the most perfect band to be performing in the corner of that room, for you, while you wait.

It’s Friday and, in a heroic act of uncharacteristic organisation, three Snobs have managed to coordinate not only attendance of the same gig ensemble (Cuzomano purchasing some last-minute second hand tickets notwithstanding), but also some pre-drinks in nearby Hammersmith pub, the Blue Anchor. The mood is bright and optimistic – several subordinates also make their way over to join us before we have to make a hasty departure for the venue in order to make the main event on time.

We were definitely all excited to see Beirut’s horn-infused indie with a divine twinge, and were impressed by latest album, Gallipoli. We entered the Apollo and it’s now that we begin to grow confused. Did we die on the way there? We are still not sure.

The crowd was certainly in the mood, with mellow positivity positively oozing from the Apollo’s ageing walls. People here are excited – one fellow decided to speak to yours truly at the bar, feeling compelled to tell me how “nice” this band are. I’m not inclined to disagree – indeed, none of us were; Easy C was more focussed on noticing how “delightful” certain members of the audience smelled, John was drunk (that’s our hedonist), and Cuzomano was catching him up, waiting to see Beirut emerge on-stage.

Distinctly mediocre photo #1

There are sizeable cheers upon frontman (and star of the show) Zach Condon’s appearance, as Beirut open with When I Die. One can feel the collective hug from both band and audience, as Condon breezily takes us through a beautiful, mellow and introspective series of tracks that showcase the power of brass and rock-solid instrumentation sorely lacking from today’s Electronic-infused world.

As Beirut’s status has rightly grown, so too have their live performances. The group’s ability to extend and expand songs into longer, showcase pieces as part of their set is a welcome addition, although can feel excessively timid when weighed against the quality of their musicianship. The effect is to create a perpetual sense of hopeful waiting for the ‘Big Moment’ that sadly never arrives. Hence Purgatory: were you to find yourself in that perfectly pleasant waiting room, you would look at the wall-mounted clock showing a celestial time you don’t recognise and start tapping your foot. Beirut would be playing and they would be banging, but it won’t really be going anywhere, just like your poor, trapped soul.

This also means Beirut can be a little dull at times. Despite professing his love for the band, John had an entire conversation with a subordinate throughout the entirety of Light in the Atoll, while Easy C and Cuzomano decided to bury themselves another round of beers with gin-and-tonic chasers (a John special).

Distinctly mediocre photo #2

Do not get us wrong – Beirut is a good band, with a growing collection of strong songs from talented and noteworthy musicians. We just see the potential for more; when Beirut jam, it lacks the hypnotic quality of Atlas Sound, for example, or the mind-blowing capabilities of a Spiritualized or Kiasmos, even. The group feels too shy to show off what they could really do, and we think it shows.

There remain some great tracks – during Corfu, a wonderful, Pet Sounds-evocative instrumental, we start to get a serious vibe. It is a superb track. John, the belligerent hedonist, staggered over to Easy C and Cuzomano, sprawling his limbs over his fellow Snobs – behaviour symptomatic of the joyous position we all find ourselves in – he wanted to write something:

“Beiroot is gud band. Music is nice feeling. Some song gud, some song less gud. I happy.”

[Editor’s note: John is in no way a mockery of any sort of less fortunate being; he is just drunk.]

Meanwhile, the waiting room has now come to life. Patients of all backgrounds sway and move as though you were in a pristine period drama. There is a palpable atmosphere of sheer enjoyment. John begins to bellow lovingly at a passerby, his enjoyment apparently outweighing social decorum. And yet, there’s still that lingering sense of waiting…

Beirut are a band who, like Efterklang, could be so much more than they are. If only they were more experimental. Several albums in at this point, it can feel like Beirut are playing themselves in a live setting, and that there is more waiting to come out. To Beirut: let it be – take a big risk! To any sort of fan: appreciate and enjoy, but know: there could, and should, be more.