With his long-awaited first UK headline date, Zach Condon has staked his claim to be the poster boy for the gypsy music explosion. He may hail from Albuquerque rather than Albania, but the precocious 21-year-old who records as Beirut is taking the increasingly popular sound down new avenues.
This gig, in fact, is more like a comeback: last November Condon was hospitalised for extreme exhaustion. That may seem ridiculous for a lad in his prime, even if he does look slightly consumptive on stage, until you remember he started recording when he was 15.
Last year's Gulag Orkestar was acclaimed by the Rough Trade shop as its album of the year. What set Condon apart was his tremulous, Rufus Wainwright vocal, something still evident when you see the pale, awkward guy with the shock of dark, unkempt hair. Such is the quaver in his voice that consonants count for little, so picking up words is tricky, yet there remains an alchemy between his voice and the horns.
Indeed, Beirut are at their most effective when Condon himself joins in on his peculiar trumpet, with its valves on the side. While he tends to rely on overdubs in the studio, an eight-strong band are better able to layer their parts, especially when ukulele and mandolin ratchet up the tension before the brass makes its entry. It is this mix of euphonium and trumpet that Condon has borrowed from Eastern Europe, along with, from the likes of Macedonia's Kocani Orkestar, the propulsion of clattering drums, but with a mix of martial rolls and funk beats. The New Mexico upstart has developed his own sound, especially on material from his forthcoming album, The Flying Club Cup.
Condon's songs increasingly take on the characteristics of chanson, where no emotion is knowingly undersold. You hear echoes of this in highlights from Gulag, namely the heart-wrenching "Postcards From Italy", though the singer is more confident on recent work. Best of the bunch is current single "Elephant Gun". "Nantes", meanwhile, brings the whole band together.
Still unfamiliar with top billing, Condon mutters to the front row, bewildered by the crush eager to glimpse him, but a showman is starting to emerge, as seen on a final tear through Kocani's "Siki Siki Baba" (used to their ire on the Borat movie soundtrack).
An hour has passed by in a flash, with the crowd still demanding more from Beirut. Hopefully the wait won't be as long next time.Reuse content