Zach Condon is embarrassing. Not to himself, mind you, but to any admirers that are older than he is. So successful at just twenty-one, Condon makes those his senior think, “What the hell was I doing at twenty-one that was so great?” In most cases, the answer isn’t going to be anything approaching “creating blog buzz by generating albums and selling out concerts across the globe.” So it’s good to see that Condon, the boy wonder behind Beirut, which played the beautiful, historic Avalon Theatre in Los Angeles on October 10 (the first of two nights there), doesn’t seem to be letting his early achievements make him cocky. Onstage, he remains a humble, graceful, and multi-talented presence.
After a short set by the band Alaska in Winter, Beirut’s Paul Collins came out to introduce the next act, European instrumentalist Colleen. He implored the sell-out crowd to quiet down for Colleen’s set, and suggested we all sit on the floor. Some took him up on the offer, but the Avalon was simply way too packed for everyone to be on their duffs. Even after Collins’s admonishment, the Hollywood hipster crowd (which on this night included most of the young cast of Superbad) continued to gab over Colleen’s exceedingly soft, pretty music. She smiled and soldiered through it, hopping from cello to oboe to clarinet, looping her sound over itself with special pedals that created a very Philip Glass-like effect. Colleen is undoubtedly talented, but her minimalist aura just wasn’t right for the big, expectant, Condon-adoring crowd.
And Condon is mightily adored. Ladies (and yes, even plenty of gentleman) swoon over him whether he’s playing flugelhorn or ukulele, singing, or serving as conductor for the rest of the musicians. The band opened with the traditional gypsy instrumental “Serbian Cocek,” which Beirut’s pals in A Hawk and A Hacksaw also handled on their recent album with the Hun Hangar Ensemble. From there, Beirut mostly alternated between songs from newbie The Flying Club Cup and lat year’s debut, Gulag Orkestar. Probably because the former had come out only one day before the show, the crowed went crazy any time Condon and company fired up a tune from the latter. But whether it was the newer “Cherbourg” or the older “Postcards from Italy,” everything had people dancing in the aisles and balconies. The band also worked in “Elephant Gun,” what should go down as one of 2007’s best tunes, from the Lon Gisland EP. After all the horn cackling and tiny-stringed-instrument strumming got a little repetitive, Beirut was smart to encore with the more piano-laden “In the Mausoleum.”
Of course, Condon’s age is inescapable. He really is just a kid, so it’s natural to wonder if the music he’s making now is just a phase he’s going through. And if that’s so, what’s his next step? He could just keep churning out baroque, horn-inflected world pop. He could, like Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, someone Condon is often compared to, simply walk away while on top. Or, probably most likely, Condon’s music will mature and evolve. And that should prove very interesting to hear.