The Fillmore Auditorium hosted two acts Wednesday night that performed a delightful blend of world influenced music. It was all presented in a way that had a certain familiarity - I knew I was hearing music that was fantastically different, though it never sounded shockingly foreign. I suppose that was due to the respective artists' ability to meld international sounds with Western musical sensibilities, delivering a listening experience that was somewhere in between and ultimately refreshing.
The night began with a short opening performance from French singer-songwriter Laetitia Sadier. She is best known for her work as part of the indie post-rock band Stereolab, but has since delved in solo projects since that band went on hiatus two years ago. Laetitia Sadier released a solo album titled The Trip last year, a collection of original songs and a few covers that maintain a connection to the Stereolab sound, especially through the help of her backing band, and I expected her performance to draw mostly from that material. It turned out that wasn't exactly the case.
Laetitia Sadier came out on stage with an electric guitar in hand and no backing band in sight. She came up to the microphone, introduced herself, and began to play intimate versions of songs that spanned her lengthy career. It took me off guard at first, as I thought I'd be recognizing mostly songs off of her new album, but she decided to perform minimalist versions of a variety of songs. Unfortunately, I think it wasn't the most appropriate setting for her minimalist approach; she couldn't quite capture the full attention of the large Fillmore Auditorium crowd the way a full band may have been able to.
I did enjoy the music Laetitia Sadier performed, despite it being not what I was expecting, as it was a good mix of solo material, songs from Stereolab and songs from her side project Monade. The only song she performed that I recognized off of her new album was "Statues Can Bend" - fitting because the studio version of the song is also minimalist (just vocals and guitar). I enjoyed "Where Did I Go", an original song not featured on her album. It was cool hearing stripped down versions of "Wash and Dance" (from Monade's album A Few Steps More) and "International Colouring Contest" (from Stereolab's album Mars Audiac Quintet).
Although I was hoping to hear more material from her new album with a full backing band, I did appreciate the very personal way she presented her performance. I would have loved to hear the full band versions of songs like "One Million Year Trip" and "Un Soir, Un Chien". However, while a full band performance may have been better suited for a venue this size, I don't think it would have had the same intimate charm. Still, I couldn't help but feel her solo performance would best be experienced in a small setting allowing listeners to truly get a personal connection.
As for Beirut's performance, there was not much minimal about it at all. Beirut brought a collection of world influenced folk sounds like audio souvenirs and snapshots gathered from around the globe. To achieve their sound, the six members of Beirut used an incredible collection of various instruments; trumpets, ukulele, trombone, tuba, french horn, xylophone, accordion, upright bass, drums, piano, electric bass. There was a constant shuffling of instruments occurring on stage - a marvel to see what it takes to create the Beirut sound.
Beirut started with a more analog and deliberate version of "Scenic World" (compared to the version on Gulag Orkestar) - there was no bossa nova-like drum loop, the tempo was a little slower, and the accordion/horn melody was much stronger and incredibly powerful, hinting that the band would continue to perform songs that had a more organic feel and not really incorporate some of the digital aspects found in some of their later songs - instead being more traditional folk oriented like early Beirut.
It wasn't after two more earlier Beirut songs, "The Shrew" and "Elephant Gun" before the band played anything off of the new album The Rip Tide. "Vagabond" was the first new song performed, and it inspired the crowd to dance creatively - somewhere between ballroom, club and rock show. I like that Beirut decided to really mix up their set list and incorporate songs from their entire catalog, rather than running straightforwardly through their new material and then placing older songs randomly here and there.
Although Beirut did not play their entire discography, Beirut performed at least a couple songs from every album including EPs in their catalog. There were pieces from the full length albums The Flying Club Cup and Gulag Orkestar as well as inclusions from Lon Gisland, March of the Zapotec & Realpeople - Holland. As I mentioned before, Beirut seemed to strive to keep their performance as organic as possible, so the the songs performed off of Holland did not feature the many of the electronic aspects that are present in the original recordings. That is also what I noticed about songs performed off of The Rip Tide. For Example, there was no drum machine loop in "Santa Fe", and instead of the synth loop that drives the recorded version of the song, an accordion riff took it's place. This organic approach didn't disrupt the feel of the songs, but instead made me appreciate the musicality each member of Beirut possesses. I honestly can't decide which versions of the songs I like better, and I am glad they approached performing their music this way.
Beirut had the entire Fillmore Auditorium crowd engaged in their performance from start to finish, so much so that the crowd refused to let their set end not once, but twice. Beirut played their initial set for a little over an hour, but before they could even fully leave the stage the building was shaking from stomping feet and loud calls from the crowd to bring them back for an encore. Beirut came back, playing "Carousels", an organic version of "My Night With the Prostitute from Marseille", and "The Gulag Orkestar". Yet even that wasn't enough to satiate the crowd, so after more raucous calls from the crowd for another encore, Beirut came back with more.
For the second encore, Zach Condon came out and played a stripped down version of "The Penalty". Zach Condon came out alone with just his ukulele and wowed the crowd with his intimate solo performance. Afterwards, the rest of Beirut came out for one final song, an incredible cover version of A Hawk And A Hacksaw's "Serbian Cocek", sending the crowd into the night after treating them to a feverish dance session.
Seeing Beirut live was even better than I imagined it would be. Their ability to combine music from around the world - Balkan folk, French folk, Mexican folk and more - and combine it all in an accessible way that makes sense, doesn't seem dated, and is not an unorganized or unrelatable sonic mess, was truly incredible. Seeing all the instruments come to life was a feast for the eyes and enhanced the pleasure of the ears. Anyone who has appreciation for folk, traditional and indie music should strive to see Beirut live - as Wednesday's performance truly was a remarkable show.
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