The music of Beirut, a band loved by audiences and critics for its evocation of Balkan melodies and audacious indie savvy, often underscores a poetic sense***image1*** of loss. But when band leader Zach Condon sings, "Set fire to foundation and burn out the station/You'll never get nothing of mine/The pane of my window will flicker and billow/I won't leave a stitching behind"? from the song "Brandenburg,"? there is a strong sense of wanderlust.
Bands such as Yeasayer, O' Death and the Cave Singers, which also work with world roots and folk foundations, carry with them the same penchant for seeking out the source of their musical material. But unlike those musicians, the artists of Beirut assume an entirely different posture, one steeped - perhaps unintentionally - in creative restlessness.
A New Mexico native, Condon formed Beirut in Santa Fe in 2006, and he orchestrates the band's music and writes its lyrics. He and bandmates Paul Collins and Nick "Peach"? Petree share a deep history in Santa Fe, but although the Brewing Company gig is billed as a homecoming, Beirut's music makes "home"? difficult to quantify.
"It's pretty rare that I have something planned like a pre-determined rhythm, although it has happened a few times,"? Condon says of his compositions. He is speaking on the eve of a tour that will take the band around the country and eventually to Santa Fe. The upcoming show was supposed to be another notch on their tour schedule, but instead has turned into a conclusion. Condon recently canceled all of Beirut's European tour dates. Beirut's Web site explains why the shows were canceled.
"The responsibilities of gathering people around your vision, working with great people like those who work directly for the band and those at the label, ***image2***wanting to ensure that every show is as good as humanly possible - all of that leads to a lot of issues in terms of doing right by people who have done you right,"? Condon says.
"Whenever I'm writing an album, I'm always trying to completely re-write whatever I've done before,"? he adds. "
In Flying Club Cup
I was turning my back on where the first album had taken me before. It had driven me a bit mad. I'm not the type of musician that was built for touring. When I tour I don't do anything else with my life."?
Although Condon is the primary architect of Beirut's music, an impressive cast of musicians help him realize his vision. Collins is a semester shy of graduating with a film degree from the College of Santa Fe. He met Condon at a Warehouse 21 show in 2006 and soon joined Beirut as a tambourine player, then moved on to baritone ukulele, trumpet and upright bass.
"I saw Zach play with a computer and a trumpet at that show,"? Collins says. "I went up to him after the show to introduce myself."?
And that began the extraordinary rise of an improbable band. Collins' first official show with the band was a sanctioned showcase gig at the 2006 South by Southwest Music Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. It was a precocious start in and of itself.
"Forty, maybe 50, people came to the show. They didn't seem to hate us, but they didn't go crazy and start tearing the place down either,"? Petree, a percussionist from Taos and 2005 graduate of CSF who met Condon through Collins, says. When Condon began to search for a band, Petree was recruited to play drums and percussion. The SXSW show was Petree's first official Beirut gig as well.
"I was introduced to Zach through Paul. Paul had shown me his music and said we should get in a band with this guy and I said, "Yeah, we totally should,"? Petree says. After the SXSW show, Collins and Petree moved to Brooklyn and essentially became the band's first incarnation. Compared to the relatively dismal turnout at SXSW, New York proved to be fertile ground for the band.
"When I showed up in New York, every show we played was sold out, so it was pretty surprising,"? Petree continues. "People love a good melody and Zach's melodies sound like they could have been written 200 years ago. They are so timeless in that way."?
Petree lives in Albuquerque, but treks to New York for tour rehearsals. Collins lives in Brooklyn, but is returning to CSF this fall to complete his degree. When Collins and Petree are not touring or recording with Beirut, the two of them tinker with their own side project, aptly named Free Time. It's a band that, according to Collins, is a blend of psychedelic avant-garde rock of Red Krayola and the Mali roots groove of Tinariwen.
Despite Beruit's origins, Santa Fe is not its permanent home. After speaking with Condon, Collins and Petree, it's clear their concept of home is abstract. Beirut will continue recording and touring with new material, but in the meantime, Condon will explore new musical paths. After all, specific places in the world, no matter where, risk predictability; it's something these musicians seem intent on avoiding. Perhaps, there is no sense of loss, but rather, longing for a perfect melody somewhere in the world, waiting to be played.