Concert review: Beirut and Laetitia Sadier tour the worlds of pop and folk at the Pageant, Sunday, October 9

Beirut at the Pageant, October 9, 2011

Kate McDaniel

Santa Fe native Zach Condon and his European-influenced pop project, Beirut, lit up the Pageant Sunday night in support of Condon’s third full-length work, “The Rip Tide.”

The album best represents Condon’s incomparable sound, which combines traditional Balkan music, French pop and electronic music. Beirut’s evocative pastiches of romantic and foreign festivity have given the group plenty of fodder for lively shows around the world. Quite a few came out on the eve before Columbus Day to see Condon and Co. play under strings of light bulbs that were reminiscent of the patio area in Italian restaurants.

The crowd was unprepared for opener Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab fame. For the first few songs she seemed to masquerade playfully as a quirky coffee shop singer/songwriter, just getting her big break opening for a hip indie buzzband. She took no time in charming the crowd as a one-woman band lightly picking at a Gibson SG.

But as Sadier’s set continued she revealed to a youthful crowd that she was a veteran performer. Her songs were gorgeous vocally and backed by simple guitar chords. Her soft voice filled the room and ebbed and flowed with her chummy strums. She used the crowd’s detachment from her celebrity to her advantage, ending songs with a blood-curdling scream or funny vocal effects. She later revealed her allegiance with a bubbly cover of Stereolab’s “International Colouring Contest.”

Just when it seemed her act could benefit from a backing band, Beirut’s rhythm section and horn section each respectively stepped in for a song each. The arrangements with and without a backing group showcased Sadier’s songwriting with a minimal apparatus. It was safe to say that people who didn’t know Sadier from her Stereolab resume left with a strong impression of her. It was possible too that Sadier, if given more time, could have run away with Beirut’s show.

Condon, however, has become very comfy as the front man of his successful band. Condon and his 5-piece accompaniment launched into some of the more upbeat cuts from “The Rip Tide” while the light bulbs above radiated to the half-time shuffles.

“Santa Fe,” a good summation of Beirut’s current and poppier sound, got the crowd bobbing as some of the band members fist pumped to the beat like Jersey Shore cast members. As the lead vocalist, trumpet, ukulele and occasional piano player, Condon looked like maestro onstage, especially within the context of his genre mélange. Before playing the slower-paced, “Goshen,” Condon put down his trumpet, sat down at the piano and sighed. “Time to play this piano song,” he said, almost as if to remind himself what language he was speaking.

As an artist that rose parallel to the influence of the blogosphere in 2006, Beirut’s set list of older songs sounded like a nostalgic trip through each year of compacted indie music. Songs like the waltzy “Elephant Gun” and “A Sunday Smile” were sung by Condon with a celebratory tone (“Sing along if you’re drunk enough,” he exclaimed). On “Gulag Orkestar” Condon’s mature choirboy voice was engulfed by a thunderous marching band, which featured a booming tuba.

The Pageant’s giant amplifiers greatly affected the potency of Beirut’s shuffling bass lines and the shrill accordion arpeggios, such as on the band’s most popular song, “Nantes.” These songs, when foregrounded amidst new material, are testaments of Condon’s development as a songwriter and performer. Listening to “The Riptide” confirms the progress of Beirut’s distinctive pop brand, but seeing the band execute their songs live highlights the quality of Condon’s musicianship and craft.

When it came to the encore, the band brought the show to its highest energy level, unleashing on “My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille,” a cut from Condon’s electronic project called “Real People.” On record, the song resembles a techno song more than Beirut’s typical ethnic folk-pop appropriations. Live, the song had a rustic feel with horns and an acoustic drum set. Here was where Beirut truly could’ve been the house band for some European café on a festive evening. The only thing missing from the reverie was a gourmet Bolognese.