Inside the buzzing lobby of the Opera House, where the body heat warms and the overpriced beer quenches, as ecstatic Beirut fans rush all around me, all I can think is, 'Thank God they changed the venue!'
At the smaller, less opulent San Francisco Bath House, tonight would've been an orgy of craning necks and clawing paws fighting to get a look at the bands. There would've never been, for example, the spectacle of kids dancing up to the foot of the stage, as occurs for opener Tono and The Finance Company. With frontman Anthonie Tonnon's uncanny Morrissey-esque croon and weirdo swagger, The Finance Company enlivens the crowd with sharp pop ballads and could-be dance hits that call to mind the best of turn-of-the-Century Britpop. By the end of their set, more butts have left their seats to join the wriggling posse up front.
On this charged note, Beirut's set begins with the sweeping favorite 'Scenic World' off their 2006 album, Gulag Orkestra, followed by the gypsy-dervish masterpiece 'The Shrew' off the 2009 EP, March of the Zapotec, and the epic 'Elephant Gun' off Beirut's second album from 2007, The Flying Club Cup.
Other than some faltering trumpet play early on, the set is off to a glorious start. Zach Condon's sonorous voice is as moving as ever, and the accordion, bass, drums, flugelhorn, trumpet and a rotating cast of brass conspire with the crowd's own percussive contributions. The joyous clamour that fills the Opera House prompts Condon to remark that tonight has made the last few shows seem "sleepy by comparison."
The roar of the crowd for the swarthy, full-bodied, brass-heaving classics is unmistakable throughout the show, which is perhaps why Beirut chooses the older songs to bookend their performance. Perhaps a more retrained, more personal album, the material from The Rip Tide gets less of the whoop and holler that Beirut's older work elicits, yet the sunnier gems, Vagabond and Sante Fe - charmingly recreated with staccato accordion replacing the album's synth back beat - clearly ignites the dancing kids.
Meanwhile, lovers move closer to the ukulele-led, klezmer waltz of Port of Call, and swoon to introspective ballads Goshen and East Harlem. None of these receive the applause that meets Gulag Orkestra during the encore, but clamour isn't the only measure of a performance; I can say with confidence that few left the show feeling less than greatly rewarded.
Who: Beirut w/ Tono and the Finance Company
Where: The Wellington Opera House
When: Saturday 14 January