“Chryde, this is Zach from Beirut. I was extremely excited to hear of the possibility to fly out to Paris to play a show…but alas, the timing is off. On May 31st, I’ll be in the midst of preparing a tour with a live band around the East Coast…But I was hoping that you keep me in mind, and if I were to go out to Europe later this year, some extra help in Paris would be ideal…It’s been about a year since I was last there. Probably my favorite place in all western Europe.”
This was April 2006. Gulag Orkestar had just been released. I can’t remember exactly why, but I had written Zach Condon; I wanted him to play in Paris. We had two conversations via email, and then nothing. Six months later, I met him for the first time. we talked about doing a Take Away Show. He looked dizzy, discombobulated. We spoke for only a few seconds, enough time for him to explain his exhaustion: the next day, he canceled his European tour. We had been so optimistic that we had already printed out flyers for the event. He disappeared, but it was only a matter of time… Forty Take Away Shows later, it finally comes to fruition. Beirut: number 64.
This story could fill pages. Zach was still intent on doing a Take Away Show. I met him at the Blonde Redhead show in Paris. We had dinner together, then I showed him the video we had shot with the Kocani Orkestar. An excited look in his eyes told us that he was in for the show we had planned with Kocani later that summer. We planned the evening for the end of his two months in Paris. We had finally done it–the first Take Away Shows with Beirut.
Today, Beirut has grown from a solo bedroom project to a band of up to ten people; it’s a band, but not a band. It’s a happy mistake, a mess. A group of noisy, undisciplined, joyful people who took over an entire terrace on Oberkampf, gathering around the tables, spreading their instruments and cases, everyone playing songs in their own world… Such a messy, smiling anarchy that we thought they’d never manage to play the song.
And in the middle, there’s Zach. Frail Zach, with his skinny yet magical arms. These arms that convey his excitement as he communicates to his band through them; a conductor, pointing to instruments as he watches momentum build in the song. This was one of the first times the band had played “Nantes” outside of the studio, and Zach looked as if he was explaining the song to his band as he was singing it, his arms dancing around his body.
It took us half an hour to find a bar ready to welcome us for “The Penalty”. Once more came the necessary anarchy, which Zach punctuated with lessons for every one of the musicians: teaching Jason the ukulele parts, preparing the brass for their grand entrance from the back of the restaurant, Perrin rehearsing on accordion. After this tiresome session, everything ran smoothly, naturally. Zach entered the bar, the melody already blaring from his ukulele–and at the end of the room, lit merely by candles, the band began to carry him away in music.
This was just the beginning of this story. We’re writing the second part as we speak. We’re now in New York with Beirut, shooting not one song at a time, but an entire album. The Flying Club Cup. 13 videos, the growth of an album, and the live show all presented as one.