From Beirut with love

A lot of eating and drinking: The band stopped here to hang, and checked out Moog Music, Thirsty Monk, Tupelo Honey and a few other choice spots.

Seems like Beirut might have a little crush on Asheville.

In fact, when the Brooklyn band had a day off between shows in Richmond and Atlanta a few weeks ago, the musicians chose to drive their tour bus a good hour out of the way to hang out here in the mountains with us.

And it turned out to be one of the most memorable stops of their tour (which went across North America, Europe and the late-night stages of Letterman and Fallon, mind you). The band checked out the Moog Factory, drank beers at the Thirsty Monk, ate dinner at Tupelo Honey and Chai Pani, and hung out late at Broadway’s.

All that, and they just happened to run into Brian effing Eno. 

“It was incredible,” says Paul Collins, Beirut’s bass player. “We were invited [by the people at Moog Music] to see the 77 Million Paintings, an early preview of it. We didn’t know if Eno was going to be there — I kind of assumed he wasn’t — and then he popped out. He was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on everybody.’ And it was that moment where it’s like, ‘Holy shit, that’s really Brian Eno.’” 

“He was just so nice. We went up to talk to him after the show, and he actually said he knows Beirut, and he was a fan of our new single [the charming “East Harlem”]. He called up his daughters to say, ‘Hey, have you heard of this band Beirut?’ And they were like, ‘Of course, Dad!’ Which we thought was awesome,” he says, still sounding a bit in awe. “Yeah, that was the shit.”

And for Beirut, the Asheville randomness hardly stopped there.

“[Accordion/piano player] Perrin [Cloutier] and I both days went to Early Girl,” Collins goes on. “I love that place. I love it so much. And actually, you know who else was eating there? [Congresswoman] Gabrielle Giffords. That was, like, the start of my day. And then at the end of the day, we meet Brian Eno.” He laughs. “I’m just stopping through Asheville, but this is the sort of shit that happens here I guess.”

Aww, shucks. Now you’re just making us blush.

But enough about us. Let’s talk Beirut.

The orchestral pop band started out in 2006 as a bedroom recording project for Santa Fe teenager and multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon. Heavily influenced by Balkan folk music and French cabaret, Condon’s debut album, Gulag Orkestar, became an out-of-the-blue indie hit. Filled with gypsy-infused horns, waltzing accordions, strumming ukuleles and Condon’s gorgeous, fluttering croon, its sound conjured up all the mystery and romance of a rag-tag musical procession shambling down the cobble-stoned back streets of an old European city.

For Beirut’s third and latest album, The Rip Tide, Condon decided to change things up. This time, instead of heading back to his usual Sante Fe to woodshed new songs, he pulled a Bon Iver and headed north, alone. For six months, he holed himself away in a farmhouse in upstate New York, just him and his pet beagle Cousteau, writing some of the catchiest songs of his career. And when he returned to Brooklyn, he made another Beirut first by inviting the entire band in to the studio to record the tracks live.

“Zach comes back with these demos, and they’re amazing,” says Collins. “They sound like finished works, in a way. They could be. But when the band gets a hold of them — everybody really heavily digging into the songs — and once we start mixing them down and everything, you hear how, OK, this really needed the band. That’s how [Zach] was imagining them.”

Relinquishing some of the control proved to be a smart move on Condon’s part. Whereas early albums were drowning in layers and layers of exotic instruments and lush, dense sounds, The Rip Tide feels almost airy. More honest, more natural. For the first time, Beirut sounds like, well, a real band.

“It’s kind of an imperceptible thing probably to somebody who’s giving it a light listen,” says Collins. “But there’s just certain songs where it gels in this unique way. To where as, before, it was just Zach stacking things on top of one another. But now it’s really a band sound, much more like our live show than anything we’ve done before.”

And speaking of live show, what’s Condon and co. planning this time around for their trip to Asheville?

“A lot of eating and drinking, I assume,” Collins says, laughing.

Already thinking like a true local.

— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer.

who: Beirut, with Perfume Genius
where: The Orange Peel
when: Monday, Dec. 5 (8 p.m. $25/$28.


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