Thursday, June 22, 2006

ok, we get it, i like beirut

I'm so glad Beirut exceeded the expectations I had carved out (with my expectations knife) for their live act. Because while I really enjoyed the album, Gulag Orkestar, I had a sneaking suspicion that it had to be better live. Because of the brass. Because of the Balkan gypsy thing.

When you've got multiple people on stage kinda going nuts on crazy instruments, when it works, it really works (ie. broken social scene, arcade fire, other bands I'm forgetting) and the show is a real show, the music transformed before your ears, with push and pull, different arrangements, the interaction between the members — everything that makes live music so great. And Beirut has a brass section, clarinets, violins, cello (yay!), accordion, keyboards, ukulele and particularly lovely moments when a big burly guy plays the xylophone. And Zach Condon's voice that is another instrument too. We love Zach Condon.

I first encountered the sort of Balkan gypsy musical tradition when I watched Emir Kusturica's movie Underground, where among other crazy, surreal events, there's a brass band running around on screen, following the characters. Kind of like an insane musical Greek chorus plus trombone.

Soon after, I started noticing Balkan brass everywhere (like they were following me! oompah, oompah!) — its roots in other kinds of music and specifically the highly entertaining and talented Brooklyn-based Hungry March Band, the movie Everything is Illuminated (Liev Schreiber counts Kusturica as a big influence), Kusturica's own group the No Smoking Orchestra... Obviously Kusturica and his movies, and the people who work on the music in them like Goran Bregovic, seem to pop up, weirdly, again and again in my life.
I haven't delved too deeply into the style and other groups, but I'm curious to learn more, says the dilettante. The quick affinity that I felt is a bit puzzling, I think, unless you want to go the "music is universal" route, but I always have a tough time pinpointing the reasons why I like music (as do most people). ryspace has some live clips from a show Beirut did not too long ago, with a similar set to the Northsix show I went to. One of the songs is Siki Siki Baba... How fucking awesome is this song???
Aaannd interestingly, here is a more traditional (as far as I know) take by Kocani Orkestar, a big influence on Condon. In fact, Condon is a guest blogger at Said the Gramophone, and he talks about his influences and gives a brief brief trajectory/history of Balkan gypsy music.
Ok, I think I'm done gushing about things I don't really know much about now and linking to five million things.
(Photo by the fabulously up-to-date brooklynvegan)

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