Last night’s Beirut gig at Koko must surely rank as one of the best gigs of 2007 so far. Koko now seems to be the London venue of choice for promoters keen to gamble on aspiring independent artists, and the substantial audience for this show has surely vindicated that calculated risk. This is great to see – it’s just a shame that Koko is such an unwieldy, claustrophobic place. Like the Hotel California, you’re very welcome, but it’s damn near impossible to get out!
I hadn’t heard anything about support act Dirty Projectors before last night. Jeremy Warmsley informed us that mainman Dave Longstreth had some kind of obsession with the first Black Flag album, for which he had retained the inlay, but not the cassette, and for the first DPs album had endeavoured to recreate the sound of that seminal record as he remembered it in his head. Although I know many people for whom the whole US hardcore scene represents something close to an obsession, I’ve never really found the time for it. I therefore can’t comment on how closely Longstreth came to realising that rather bizarre ambition, but I can say that Dirty Projectors sounded like the most radical and original rock act I’ve seen in some time. The intricate and joyful interlocking guitars sounded like they were transported from Mali, and the rhythm section veered gamely between disco-inflected grooves and adroitly handled stabs and punctuations. Added to the mix were some delightful vocal harmonies, and controlled explosions of improvised noise. This should have been too many ideas for one band – but somehow it coalesced superbly. I shall be seeking out some of their recordings as a priority.
Beirut’s almost entirely acoustic live set-up was a joy to behold, with ukuleles, mandolins, various horns, baritone saxophone and accordion amongst sundry other instruments battling to be heard. Mercifully, this was a rare occasion for which Koko seem to have managed a decent sound balance, helped by the band performing with real zest and enthusiasm. The Eastern European folk music upon which Zach Condon has drawn heavily has a very bawdy heart indeed, and the band made the most of this in live performance, although the song’s melodies frequently seem more melancholy or mournful. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition, and the band capture a peculiar conflict between exuberant joy and reserved hesitancy. Zach Condon’s slurred vocals, somewhat similar to those of Rufus Wainwright, are still a slight obstacle, as its frequently difficult to grasp his lyrics and themes. Still, there’s clearly something innate and clear in this music with which audiences connect, as this is the most enthusiastic and excitable London crowd I’ve seen in a while. The new material didn’t sound quite as distinct as Condon had suggested in interviews that it would, although it offered a clear refinement of an already very successful formula. In a sense, more of the same would be more than enough.