Beirut with Colleen and Alaska in Winter
at Avalon, October 10
Zach Condon has the voice of a champion.
Hearing Condon, the 21-year-old high school dropout/New Mexico native behind the powerful Balkan-klezmer music of Beirut, sing at Avalon last week helped me establish a personal contemporary poster child for the term “wunderkind.” Despite his young age, Condon sings with sophistication and conducts his eight-piece band with a rare and generous earnestness. Because of his baby face and unassuming stage attire (beige cardigan, faded black jeans), it’s quite startling when he opens his mouth. For a second, I actually wondered if there was an operatically trained puppet master behind the red curtain pulling the strings. But after a few moments of soaking in his croon, it was clear there was no faking that smooth yet piercing bellow.
The sold-out crowd’s roaring reception of the opening chords of Beirut’s single “Elephant Gun,” released earlier this year on the EP Lon Gisland, was anthemlike in its emotional reach, and the finely crafted polyphony tumbling out of Beirut’s four-piece brass section felt victorious. It made me think of the movie Rudy — that scene at the end where everyone in the stadium chants Rudy’s name as he runs onto the field. Happy, swirling girls in front of me screamed out, “J’adore! J’adore!,” which is something I would typically find trite, but because I was floating four inches above the ground while absorbing ukulele, accordion and clarinet, I found it charming, even fitting. I can also honestly report that I have never seen a band live that made me feel like being Jewish was hip. Contempo-klezmer: more fun than a barrel of rabbis.
Condon gave a sweet goodbye/good night by finishing off with a solo performance of “Hallelujah,” which, I’m sure, conjured up visions of the late Jeff Buckley for everyone familiar with the singer’s haunting transcendent Leonard Cohen cover. Even with a bit of trouble remembering the verse order, Condon overcame his stumblings with stage presence and affection. Well done, Condon. J’adore.
The opening acts left something to be desired. Colleen is a talented young woman, and I could probably listen to her while soaking in a tub, but for God’s sake, she played the wind chimes. On her knees. Looking down. Solo.
Also performing solo was Alaska in Winter, Brandon Bethancourt’s one man band. At least, I think he was solo, but I kept looking behind him whenever he’d say, “Thank you. We’re Alaska in Winter.” Maybe he meant the royal “we.” I could talk about how I just don’t enjoy entire sets sung into a synthesizer, or how even he seemed a little bored onstage, or how he was somewhat upstaged by his own video projections. But instead I’ll just say that my friend Roxie, who was texting through the set, leaned over to me and asked, in all seriousness, “How do you spell monotonous?”
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