Last night, I went to Athens to see Beirut. Not Athens, Greece or Beirut, Lebanon, to be sure - I drove to Athens, Georgia last evening to see the band Beirut.
Don't tell me I can't see a band! Beirut sold out Atlanta's Variety Playhouse when they came through here on the last week of Rocktober, and although I had hoped that tickets would somehow materialize, they didn't and I wound up staying home that night (the one night of the penultimate week of Rocktober where I didn't go out to see a live band).
Since then, Beirut's tour took them through Georgia again, this time to Athens for a gig at the Georgia Theater. And since I established last Sunday evening that I could make it to Athens and back in an evening, I headed back last night to finally catch Beirut. I could call this little run of Athens concerts "Athenfest", but I believe there's already an actual event that goes by that name, so that could get confusing.
Perfume Genius opened. Perfume Genius is singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas, who plays incredibly personal and intimate songs about the tragedies he's encountered in his young but tortured life. For example, his song Mister Peterson seems to be about a teacher who sexually abused him before committing suicide by jumping off a building.
Dark, dark stuff and the songs were all played very quietly and with great delicacy, suppoted by two other musicians. The audience, at least those near the stage, hung on every line and gave him their complete support, but overall it was music that required complete attention, probably better suited for a coffeehouse than a concert hall.
It was quite different from the sunny and buoyant music of Beirut.
Beirut is led by Zach Condon, second from left above, who sings and plays trumpet and mandolin.
Beirut has some unusual instrumentation, and is that rare rock band that doesn't employ a guitar. Six musicians on stage, almost all multi-instrumentalists, and not one guitar to be seen anywhere.
What they did have on stage included up to three trumpets at any one time, trombone, french horn, sousaphone, xylophone, accordian, bass, drums, occasional keyboards, ukulele, and some other instruments I'm probably forgetting.
What's striking about Beirut beyond their unusual instrumentation is the joyous enthusiasm of their sound. They draw from a variety of musical traditions, most notably mariachi (Condon is from Santa Fe), but Balkan influences can also be heard, as well as gypsy and other native folk musics.
A little sample of their music for your listening pleasure:
I saw at least one young lady in last night's audience wearing an elephant-trunk mask like the ones in the video.
The young, UGA crowd really ate it up. "You are so fine!," one woman called out to Condon in a thick, southern drawl, and Condon was noticeably nonplussed for a few seconds. "I've never heard that before," he finally managed to reply, as the rest of the band cracked up.
They played their triumphant song Santa Fe from their latest album The Rip Tide about halfway through the set.
The sound system was marvelous. I commend the Georgia Theater for such a good mix of a complex arrangement of instruments, as well as keeping the show on schedule - Perfume Genius took the stage right at 9 pm, and Beirut right at 10, as advertised.
Beirut played a 60-minute set followed by a three-song encore, including a Zach Condon solo number and three rousing mariachi barn-burners. I managed to make it back home to Atlanta by 12:30, a little late but not too unmanageable.