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Spotlight

Beirut

By Tad Hendrickson
Published February 21, 2008

Beirut is a band from Montreal that has been grabbing attention on the indie rock scene with its mix of Balkan horns, gypsy and French café sounds, and a rumbling croon from bandleader Zach Condon.

It’s rare to come across a teenager from Albuquerque who’s into Balkan music and French chanson (Jacques Brel in particular) it’s even more unlikely to find one who becomes a bone fide media darling and indie rock sex symbol. Recording under the group name of Beirut, Zach Condon has done it. Condon, now 21, was recently in New York for three shows in support of his second album, The Flying Club Cup, and the advance hype very nearly eclipsed his arrival.

Beirut’s show at Central Park’s Delacourte Theater teamed Condon and his band with the shit-hot New York Gypsy All-Stars and the high-energy Balkan Beat Box, but the crowd reaction to Condon was the strongest of the night. Women hooped and squealed when he tried to remove his beat-up sport coat—it so spooked him that he put it back on before he started his next song. As he spun his tales of romantic entanglements and life’s bitter ironies, his rumbling baritone rang out over the slightly off-kilter Balkan brass section behind him (which included ukulele, mandolin, euphonium, violin and other odds and ends), and you could practically feel the crowd sigh in delight.

Condon played different instruments throughout the set, going mostly with a trumpet on a string that he slung over his shoulder while he sang. His sound is beautiful and loose, similar in feel to a young Tom Waits, and yet his music wouldn’t sound out of place at a world music festival or an intimate Brooklyn bar owned by a French expat. Say what you will about his MTV-friendly aura, but Zach Condon has brought an Old World sound to a whole new generation.