Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Beirut & Calexico @ The Roundhouse, 5 November
You know there’s a bit of a buzz about a band when a venue the size of the Roundhouse is fairly packed for a support slot. And that they’re given a 45 minutes set, must signify some expectation. But then it is Beirut, championed by the blogosphere until the word spread further, and people everywhere stood up and took notice. 4AD certainly did. This gig is the day before they officially release Beirut's album Gulag Orkestar in the UK, and clearly there are a lot of people who want to see them. But then again, this is the first ever chance that Londoners have had to catch them live.
I’m one of them. I like Calexico, but I’ve seen them twice this year already and I’m not that desperate to see them again. However, a triple bill featuring the Arizona desert-rockers, Beirut and A Hawk and a Hacksaw is pretty appealing.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time to see AHAAH, so I’ll just have to console myself with their fine recent album When the Wind Blows. But members of the group are also part of the mighty ensemble that is Beirut. I'd read loads about the prodigy that is 20-year old Zach Condon, but live Beirut are much more than a solo show. I think there's about 11 of them in total, coming and going on stage. Playing all sorts of brass and horns. And strings. And accordians. And hitting drums and other random bits of percussion. You may well like Gulag Orkestar, but their live show is something else. Condon and co. manage to take music that sounds beautiful, but quite mournful on record, but turn it into something utterly celebratory and truly exciting live. They seem to play the bulk of Gulag. They play an unreleased, untitled number, which naturally sounds great. And best of all they play Elephant Gun, the lead track on the new Lon Gisland EP, which doesn't mess with the Beirut formula but may be the best thing they've done yet. It's all a total treat. Talk about living up to expectations!
Calexico were going to have to be super special to beat that, and tonight I'm not into them. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe I've seen them too often this year. Maybe it's because they were never going to top that sizzling 100 Club gig in April. Maybe it was the Beirut factor. I don't really know, but as I stand and watch them, even though hugely impressed by the sheer virtuoso proficiency of the band, I'm not feeling it. Don't get me wrong. There are definitely highlights. Back Heart, Minas de Cobre and El Picador (as ever). And I'm glad I stuck around to hear Guero Canelo just before Calexico went off stage for the first time - the mariachi and stabbing synth combo was probably my highlight of the gig. But Mrs Growl says she's bored, and I'm kinda with her. So we leave whilst Joey Burns and co have just started their encore. Apparently there was a big 'supergroup' version of Crystal Frontier. That would have been good, but I'm not that bothered. On the way out I saw notices about the show being filmed. That might explain the lack of songs off Garden Ruin, and the general 'greatest hits' setlist. Oh well, maybe I'll check out the DVD when it comes out. Might be good.
Download: Beirut - Elephant Gun
Download: Beirut - Brandenburg
Download: Calexico - Guero Canelo
Download: Calexico - Black Heart
See more of my pictures at my Flickr photostream.
Buy Gulag Orkestar. You're spolt for choice with Calexico albums, but why not start with The Black Light and Hot Rail
PS I'm trying out a new file host. Let me know if there are any problems with downloads.