Monday, August 8th, 2011
Port Of Call
Beirut and Owen Pallett & Les Mouches at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangThe timing of Beirut’s first shows back in Toronto in a couple of years was a bit curious, coming as it did three weeks before the release of their new record The Rip Tide (though it’s out digitally tomorrow). You wouldn’t hear any word of complaint about it from their fans, however, as most would already be acquainted with the new material via live recordings circulating online and any opportunity to see the Zach Condon-led orkestar was to be celebrated, not questioned. Particularly when there were two of them – I was at the second show last Thursday evening – and especially when Owen Pallett was going to be there as support.
Pallett’s presence wasn’t just happenstance – he worked on their 2007 album The Flying Club Cup and they with him on his Spectrum, 14th Century EP and they’d toured together in the past. So lots of history there and thus completely appropriate that Pallett opened his set and the show with a reading of “Cliquot”, the song he co-wrote and sang lead on from The Flying Club Cup. Normally it wouldn’t be notable that Pallett played the first couple songs of the show on his own as with a few exceptions he’s been a solo performer for much of his career, but this was one of the first shows billed as Owen Pallett & Les Mouches wherein he was joined by Rob Gordon and Matt Smith, his bandmates in said pre-Final Fantasy trio. I was curious as to how this would work, not just because I’ve always loved the one-man orchestra aspect of Pallett’s live shows but because my memories of Les Mouches circa seven or eight years ago aren’t especially fond (personal musical taste).
It didn’t take long for any potential misgivings to be put to rest, however, as Smith and Gordon’s contributions to Pallett’s compositions were stunning. The drums were used less for rhythm than as accents and filling in the orchestral space, alternately evoking tuba and timpani parts, while Smith’s guitar was put to work simulating a brass section or pizzicato sings; only on the rare occasions where they were intended to sound like conventional guitar and drums did they sound at all odd. They were at their fullest-sounding when Kelly Pratt of Beirut joined in on trumpet but as their set wound down, it was back down to Pallett on his own. Les Mouches were meant to rejoin on “This Is the Dream of Win and Regine” but technical difficulties scuppered that visit to Has A Good Home, meaning the two final songs were a terrific cover of Caribou’s “Odessa” and finally Heartland‘s “Lewis Takes His Shirt Off”. By rights, an artist of Pallett’s stature shouldn’t be opening up for anyone, particularly in his hometown, but I’m certainly more than happy he did.
I’ve only ever been a casual Beirut fan, mostly indifferent to Gulag Orkestar while everyone else was losing their minds for it. It took a rousing SXSW 2007 set and some time spent with The Flying Club Cup to win me over and even then, I didn’t make it to any of their local shows since then. All of which is to say this would be my first proper Beirut concert experience, and it was a good one. I’d go so far as to say that having only a moderate degree of familiarity with their records enhanced my enjoyment of it as the twists and turns of the songs – all horns and swoons, loping bass, wheezing accordion and martial drums and on a few occasions Pallett’s violin – were made all the more exciting from the not knowing what could come next. And of course, it would be remiss to not mention Condon’s rich, sonorous voice which for all the swirling instrumentation remains the core of Beirut. He’s blessed with pipes that can make just about anything sound timeless and romantic, which he uses to full effect and when combined with the theatricality inherent in the act of stepping back and raising a horn to your mouth, it’s hard not to put on a stirring show.
The set list covered all points of the Beirut discography including more than half of The Rip Tide, which suited me just fine as in my estimation it’s their finest work yet; more song-focused than their earlier works and leaner-sounding while remaining plenty lush. I was a bit surprised that the March Of The Zapotec/Realpeople Holland got as much play as it did, but pleasantly so as in peeling away the more overt electronic elements from the Realpeople material turned them into some of the highlights of the show, particularly main set closer “My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille”. At an hour and fifteen minutes including encore, the show ran a bit shorter than I’d expected but the arc of the journey was pretty much perfect.
The Rip Tide is streaming in full at NPR up until its August 30 street date.
Photos: Beirut, Owen Pallett & Les Mouches @ The Phoenix – August 4, 2011
MP3: Beirut – “My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille”
MP3: Beirut – “Postcards From Italy”
MP3: Owen Pallett – “A Man With No Ankles”
MP3: Owen Pallett – “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”
MP3: Final Fantasy – “The Butcher”
MP3: Final Fantasy – “Ultimatum”
Video: Beirut – “Elephant Gun”
Video: Beirut – “The Concubine
Video: Beirut – “Postcards From Italy”
Video: Owen Pallett – “The Great Elsewhere”
Video: Owen Pallett – “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”
Video: Final Fantasy – “Horsetail Feathers”
Video: Final Fantasy – “The Butcher”
Video: Final Fantasy – “He Poos Clouds”
Video: Final Fantasy – “This Lamb Sells Condos”
Stream: Beirut / The Rip Tide
Video: Laura Marling – “Sophia”