Beirut @ The Pageant with Lætitia Sadier
Sunday, October 9th, 2011. “I’ve never seen so many smiles at once!” If Lætitia Sadier was faking astonishment, she’s a really good actor. And if she wasn’t? Shame on every audience who’s ever watched her perform. Like a quirky cross between contralto jazz singer Cassandra Wilson and experimental German counter-culture icon Nico, the charming former leader of post-rock outfit Stereolab commanded attention gently. For two songs, members of Beirut accompanied her on drum and bass, trumpet and trombone, but the bulk of her 40-minute set was just Sadier and her guitar.
She sang several songs from her 2010 solo album The Trip (English and French) and two Stereolab covers, all while bathed in thick yellow light from lamps on either side of the stage. By the time she wrapped, we felt like we were staring straight into the sun.
In the brief break between bands, I listened to some people play a round of hipster bingo, but it wasn’t much fun. There were a few guys in suspenders and newsboy caps, and a girl with a glass of wine rubbed at a charcoal drawing in her Moleskine sketchbook, but from where I sat, I was relatively surprised to notice the thing most of the audience had in common was youth. Then I remembered something very easy to forget when listening to Beirut’s complex arrangements and unique blend of Balkan folk and American pop music: Zach Condon, the floppy-haired genius (and I don’t use genius lightly) behind the whole sound and spirit of the big band Beirut, is 25 years old. Like Sufjan Stevens, he started his own label, Pompeii Records, to keep creative control over his music.
“I don’t know if you know this, but…” Condon seemed shy and a little giggly. “Half of my family lives in St. Louis. And a disturbing number of them are here tonight.” A hearty whoop came from the balcony and he located his people, triggering more nervous laughter. While I’m sure it’s largely owed to the power of suggestion, the audience at that second ramped up their warmth, seemed to help welcome him home to his family.
It’s difficult to describe a Beirut show because there’s something mystical about it. When multi-instrumentalists are rotating and alternating on trombone, flugelhorn, trumpet, euphonium, ukulele, piano and accordion, when Zach Condon’s low droning voice is soaring through nebulous lyrics intended to sound foreign to anglo ears, and Kelly Pratt’s singing high harmony, and the drums and the electric upright bass are pulling the party into the realm of pop, the audience just gets lost in the carnival.
It isn’t until you’ve walked to your car and you’re wondering how you got there that you start questioning whether what you experienced was even real. More than once I thought, I can barely believe the world as it now exists can even make someone who builds songs as beautiful as these. But I’m happy to report that I think that a lot.
After nearly two solid hours of music, the second encore ended with blistering applause and a standing ovation, and a genuine one, not the polite St. Louis-style perfunctory kind. Condon looked just as teary and overwhelmed as we did when he squinted and smiled at us, and quietly said, “We’ll be back. I promise.”
You’d be a fool to pass this show up twice.
Kelly Pratt did a fantastic job of praising Lætitia Sadier, speaking of how humbled they are to tour with her, but then he stuck his foot in his mouth towards the end of the night. He was telling us about how the band got to go see a Dolly Parton show last week and that it was amazing. “If you have the chance to see her in concert, go! She won’t be around for much longer.” The audience stiffened and grumbled adorably, and Pratt realized what he’d said and backpedaled with fury while Condon laughed at him.
Dolly Parton’s not coming anywhere near St. Louis on her tour. Sadface.
Another gem from the encore: Ben Lanz’s RAGING
tuba SOUSAPHONE solo. [Thanks, KT] Who knew that was even possible?
If you’re new to Beirut, and even if you’re not, you won’t regret watching their tiny desk concert on NPR.
Special thanks to Corey Woodruff, our extraordinary concert photographer for the evening.