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Monday, October 3, 2011

Saturday: Beirut Brings Its Old-World Grace to the Fox

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 12:35 PM

Beirut at the Fox Theater on Saturday - RICHARD HAICK
  • Richard Haick
  • Beirut at the Fox Theater on Saturday


Laetitia Sadier

Oct. 1, 2011

Fox Theater

Better than: An all-inclusive Eastern European vacation (not really)

Supporting its critically acclaimed third album, Beirut took its Eastern European-influenced pop to downtown Oakland's Fox Theater on Saturday. Beirut is perfectly suited to the Fox's visual mishmash of cultures: a Roaring 20s venue with an Indian interior housing a crowd of 21st Century hipsters. As the band played their mournful marches and dirges, many of which appeared on August's The Rip Tide, Beirut affected Old World airs with its roots in Balkan pop.

  • Richard Haick

The group formed around the brainwaves of Zach Condon, a onetime New Mexican who found himself inspired by Eastern European music on a teenaged backpacking trip. After proffering his debut full-length, Gulag Orkestar, in 2006, Condon picked up, moved to New York, and built a band to execute his ideas. His supporting players have exerted much influence on the band, so much so that it's injected elements of Western pop into the brass Balkan marches that Condon's been tinkering with throughout his career.

Take, for example, "Santa Fe," from the latest record. It's a relatively straightforward indie pop song when compared with the mournful nostalgia of Orkestar's "Postcards from Italy." "Postcards" is written, performed, mixed and mastered to sound like a nugget from another time and place (hence the name), whereas "Santa Fe" basks in modern production values and an expanded Western sonic palette. Just as memories of youthful travels fade in the inevitability of aging, so too does Condon's work settle into a comfortable groove.

  • Richard Haick

The Continental influence still persists. Condon's elaborate live setup featured brass (with a full-on sousaphone), accordion, stand-up bass, and occasionally Condon on ukelele. The band's swinging compositions and strings of circus lights strung up over the crowd lent an air of the big top to the performance. Condon's trumpet duets with multi-instrumentalist Kelly Pratt still dominate the group's sonic identity, intertwining in twinkly two-part harmonies. In many ways, Condon's new work pivots his traditional instrumentation into the glitter of synth-pop, the wonky chords of accordions mingling with modern keyboard lines.

  • Richard Haick

Fans greeted the performance with a thunderous response, prompting two encores from the band. For the second, Condon initially came out alone for a solo ukelele number. He's basically still a gangly kid with a Lifetouch haircut, but he's grown up a lot since those early days of indie stardom. After his solo, the rest of the band filtered in to finally close out the set. Once a guy who acted on teenage, touristy larks, Condon has personally assembled a talented crew and constructed an enchanting and increasingly balanced catalog.

Critic's Notebook

Laetitia Sadier - RICHARD HAICK
  • Richard Haick
  • Laetitia Sadier

Opener: Pan-European rockers Stereolab, while consistently enchanting on their records, have always disappointed me on the stage. Erstwhile lead singer Laetitia Sadier went in a different direction Saturday. With Stereolab, she intoned reserved melodies around motorik beats and Space Age bachelor music. Saturday, the singer took the stage with only an electric guitar and a microphone, and (occasional horn support excepted) weaved fluttery vocal melodies over nothing but the drones of her guitar. Without the backing band, Sadier put on a haunting show that nevertheless filled the space with her enigmatic compositions. Sadier wore a dress featuring a prominent mandala pattern, and looked at home with the Indian décor of the venue.

The venue: For that matter, the Fox's full splendor is best experienced at the front of the crowd during a performance. The theatre's walls feature ornate Hindu influenced carvings and iconography, and the room's high ceilings stretch over the floor in a latticework of marvelous uniformity. Tapestries and ornate doorways lend portent to the interstices of the space. This may be the prettiest place to catch a show in the Bay Area, and is highly recommended if you haven't had the chance.

  • Richard Haick

Rejected headlines for this article:

World Health Organization estimates 9 STDs transmitted, 3 children conceived, 377 shitty brass-folk bands started as result of Beirut show

Sources: Random buskers outside Beirut show mistaken for headliner's third encore, offered Mountain Dew sponsorship deal

In related economic news Fox Theatre Ticket Scalpers Union rally "sold out hard since Tuesday, man"

Breaking news: Fox Theatre architect Shandor hails venue's intricate Hittite-influenced interior as key to plan to "summon Gozer"

Extra! Extra! Emerging solo artist Laetitia Sadier announces to stunned crowd she's changing her name to "Play More Stereolab!"


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