What ever happened to punk rock? It’s like everyone went to band camp. Luckily Owen Pallet, the man behind Final Fantasy, and all the members of Beirut, proved technically captivating at their respective instruments, which numbered far greater than the numerous multi-instrumentalists on stage.
Pallett’s mimicry of a string quartet, via the magic of looping, yanks the meaning of virtuosity out of its 19th century context and updates it to include his adeptness at manipulating his effects pedals. Beirut’s band came out to play on his last song, surrounding his arrangements with horns and percussion like a warm cocoon, and marking a general theme for the night- that of a visible pleasure in performance. Pallett responded in kind, joining innocuously behind the band for more than half of Beirut’s set.
Pallett’s accomplice, whose name he mumbled only once, and my Googling skills have proven insufficient to find, transformed a high school overhead projector into a fluid platform for a constantly changing tableu of images imposed onto plastic sheets, all of which, sketched in broad, clear lines, were made to feel alive by the motion her steady hands gave them. The images balanced the childish with spiritual: city skylines with buildings shaped like crosses, little girls faces turned skull, slowly superimposed, and cats! Words she used: “darnation”, “transmutation”, “necromancy”, “enchantment”. Perhaps it was because of the rudimentary nature of her presentation that she did not seem in competition with Pallett’s; the two performances proceeded together, informing each other side by side.
Of course, Pallett had the larger role. He proved a charmingly awkward stage presence. “Most bands practice to shorten their awkward pauses,” he noted, looking towards his effects pedals near his shoes for help. “I’m such a pussy behind the microphone,” he said later, speaking in praise of the vocal confidence of Beirut’s Zach Condon. “Pat Methany time!,” he mumbled after picking the wrong preset on his Roland synthesizer. “Let’s try that again,” he smiled, stopping casually a few bars into a vocal misfire.
Beirut frontman Zach Condon was an entirely different animal- confident, grinning, and perhaps very drunk, certainly exuding that carefree perspective on his audience that befits a budding indie icon, peering out and laughing that “I remember Bowery being much bigger. I was ready for a stadium.” He had plenty of reason to feel good, with a roomful of devotees singing along. “Don’t stop! Ever!,” screamed one particularly aroused female, to which the room answered with rowdy cheers. “Knitting Factory!” taunted another. “You came back after that? I’d give you a hug!,” he called out, to which she replied, “You did already!” Generally comfortable with himself, (“I’m sorry I have to do this on stage,” he smiled, emptying the spit from his rotary valve trumpet), he couldn’t help but flirt with his adoring fans. “You can come up here and do anything you want,” he chortled to a flock near the front.
Battling throughout the show with Condon’s overbearing stage presence was his distractingly talented backing band. While Condon claimed a year ago that “I kinda wanted a ramshackle orchestra,” I wonder whether he’s changed his mind, or whether the band’s had a lot of time to practice. If the arrangements weren’t so tasteful, I’d be quick to call the whole affair band camp rock, with so many chops hacking away on stage. Sure, there were moments when the rhythm felt loose and the key was slightly in question, but these moments were usually overpowered by the band’s forceful energy, and their frequent moments of virtuosity. What’s more, they all played at least two instruments. This spectacle of multi-instrumentalism so defined the performance that opportunities for double-takes arose often, a baritone sax morphing into a euphonium into a clarinet in a single musician’s hands. This led to seriously geeky moments. Three ukuleles? At the same time?? (We only caught em with two and a mandolin, but who’s counting)
And most importantly for their live act, the band members seem to really like being in the band. They recalled the exuberant live performance of Arcade Fire, which was an interesting cross-reference, what with Pallet having graced both bands with his arrangements. Also, members of that band showing up for the encore. 23 people on stage by the end. By this point the Bowery floor boards were shaking, the horns were blaring, and just about everything felt blissfully ramshackle.