Nostalgia is a sentiment twice as easy to conjure as it is to exalt. Though Zach Condon’s ability to summon wistfulness for something never experienced is a talent all its own. Beirut’s hiatus from the American tour set has left us all ripe for pining, and their return to Brooklyn for the headlining spot at Northside Festival quenched the long dry mouths of fans. It was the first time the band had played together live in the past six months, and their most recent show in Brooklyn since 2011 – I’ve been kicking myself ever since I missed their last gig here, waiting impatiently for them to come back.
Though nostalgia is prone to distort, my memory did not deceive me; Beirut hasn’t withered a bit in their absence. If anything they’ve roused more desire from listeners than ever, and this was tangible in the moments before they came on stage. I got to 50 Kent only seconds prior, and managed to weave through the crowd with shocking ease until I was twenty feet from stage left. Condon appeared in a mild-sheened slate gray suit upholstering the frame of a 28 year old whose disposition is well beyond his age.
With a band as full-bodied as required by Condon’s compositions, one can find security in knowing that Beirut will always put on an exceptional show. Condon switched between trumpet, ukulele, keyboard, and of course his satiny vocal style, while his band supplied textural elements via upright and electric bass, trumpet, trombone, drums, and accordion.
Despite being a group of overwhelmingly talented musicians, there was not a speck of ego coating Beirut’s performance. They played as many fan-favorites as they could cram into an hour and a half long set without seeming rushed or impersonal. These included “Elephant Gun,” “Nantes,” “Sunday Smile,” “East Harlem,” and countless others. Condon was largely reserved the entire night and kept his banter to a humble minimum. His focus on the music was impenetrable, and the joy he was extracting from it palpable. He seemed reticent yet giddy, as if playing these songs alone in his room would bring him as much satisfaction as the ears of thousands.
Condon’s body of work and attitude towards his craft are marks of the truest incarnation of musician. This man did not choose to write music – it simply was not an option. Composing is as vital to someone like Condon as an appendage, or even nourishment. This isn’t his day job, it’s his very means of digestion. His brand of sound is one sodden with longing for a bygone era, one he never lived through. Yet his passion for the timeworn tunes of the Balkan, Mariachi, and Francophone persuasion sustains itself void of irony. There is high romanticism in Condon’s pieces, but no detachment. What he has to offer as a songwriter is the interpretation of world folk music as filtered through the bugle of a contemporary herald, one whose respect for these genres is only matched by his love of them.
As the night wound down, Condon was bashfully dodging the long-stem roses being flung at him, eventually picking one up and bowing graciously. It takes a rare human being to accomplish so much at such a young age while still retaining a polite, boyish charm…though somehow Condon simultaneously seems to harbor the heart and mind of a 97-year-old sage. Where this balanced demeanor comes from I’ll never know. What I do know is, I’ll be waiting evermore impatiently until Beirut’s next Brooklyn performance.