Whilst it is perplexing, if not impossible to agree upon the genres and categories of music Beirut belong to; it is almost impossible not to ascertain that there is something captivating, unique, special and mesmerising about their sound. Whilst their latest offering, Gallipoli, remained loyal to their tried and tested formula, XS Noize found “Gallipoli represents the best of Beirut”. Hence, XS Noize naturally wanted to report back how Gallipoli sounded at this sold-out leg of their 2019 tour. For frontman Zach Condon, Gallipoli, is very important to him, reminding him of his hometown Santa Fe. But what exactly is Gallipoli? To set the record straight on behalf of Condon, his Gallipoli is a small coastal town in Apulia, southern Italy (not the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, which amongst many things was an encampment for the British and French forces during the Crimean War in 1854 and during World War I, “the Allied Forces campaigned there”).
After a short interval, following support act Helado Negro (who showed potential but struggled to adapt to the acoustics of the Apollo), Beirut entered the stage. The ecstatic screaming, cheering and whistling from the international audience was ebullient. Opening track on Gallipoli, When I Die opened the set. The excitement continued as they played another Gallipoli track, Varieties of Exile. From the first note played, it was evident that Beirut had perfectly mastered the sound engineering needs of the Hammersmith Apollo. Even the occasional purposely out of sync notes which Beirut tend to include on their studio recordings could not be heard!
Beirut then played their first track from their back catalogue, No, No, No. With a title like this, one would expect these words to feature several times; they don’t feature at all! Many of the lyrics Condon writes are deft in this way. With the superior ownership of the sound, one was able to appreciate the lyrics on a more elevated level. Whilst Condon is not the most verbose lyricist; his cut-to-the-chase poignancy is still peaking. On When I Die “What would death steal that could harm me?” Gauze für Zah with “We’re all scared pretending we’re nothing” and Gallipoli itself philosophising “We tell tales to belong or be spared the sorrow” add additional soulful as well as ethereal elements to Beirut’s mariachi and Balkan-influenced brass.
Santa Fe, played at the cusp of the mid-section of the set started to see a loud but still, the audience slowly begins to dance. The dancing continued to pick up as Beirut played The Shrew, taken from their March of the Zapotec/Holland EP. Another poignant tune encouraging further crowd movement was Beirut’s cover of A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s instrumental, Serbian Cocek. This song, with Eastern European, Turkish and Balkan traditions has a most fascinating history to it. Condon’s friend, Jeremy Barnes, from A Hawk and a Hacksaw in 2005 gave Condon’s bedroom recordings to indie label Ba Da Bing Records. A year later Beirut’s debut LP, Gulag Orkestar (on which A Hawk and a Hacksaw would feature) was released.
Whilst three-quarters of Gallipoli comprised the setlist; the back catalogue was fairly and proportionately represented. Beirut was able to do this and wow the audience without being beholden to playing the hits. For example, singles East Harlem and Goshen from The Rip Tide (their biggest selling and most internationally known LP) didn’t feature.
Whilst it would have been an added bonus to have heard A Candle’s Fire, the chosen set list and its synchronicity, consistently kept a pumped-up audience in ascending awe. To include one last Gallipoli reference, from the outset, Beirut kept an excited London audience with high hopes and expectations entertained. At no point was there a Landslide; things only got better.