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Last Night: Beirut, Twin Sister at South Side Music Hall

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Beirut, Twin Sister
South Side Music Hall
June 6, 2011

Better than: arguing over whether it's called "beirut" or "beer pong," which is a conversation had way too often in college.

A few songs into his performance before a crowded, adoring crowd at the South Side Music Hall last night, Beirut mastermind Zach Condon looked a little dumbstruck, sheepishly toying with his hair and smiling out at his clapping fans.

"You guys are pretty awesome," he said, egging the crowd on, if only unintentionally. "This has turned out to be a lot of fun."

Indeed: Beirut's first-ever North Texas performance, which drew more than 1,100 to the Lamar Street venue on a Monday night, must've been a good time for the performer; after all, despite a number of things hand-cuffing his band's set, the crowd refused to be disappointed with the display.

Yes, it was a forgiving audience on this night. Maybe too forgiving, actually.

The most pressing concern was the sound of the room: The South Side Music Hall is a big room -- an event center, if you will -- which immediately makes an awkward setting for a show such as this one, featuring ornate, delicate song-crafters not only in the headlining Beirut, but also in the opening act, Twin Sister. That opening act's set fell particularly flat in this setting, seemingly sputtering out and dying as it wafted out past the 100-foot mark in front of the stage.

Beirut fared better. Condon, backed by a drummer and four multi-instrumentalists playing various strings, horns, keys and bells, had a fuller sound. But, still, beyond the crowded up-front area, the music had trouble gaining music traction. Had this been a sit-down show, no problem. But, in the standing-room South Side Music Hall, chatter and awkward dancing -- outright waltzing, even, toward the back of the room -- distracted from the overall appeal.

But no matter. This crowd seemed intent on forcing a special night. They cheered -- quite enthusiastically, too -- at each song's start, feigning recognition with each song, despite the fact that pretty much each of the tracks starts with the same exact accordion lead-in. They cheered, too, as Condon missed his opening part on a late-set offering and forced his band to begin it once more. They noticed not as the accordion player stumbled over a repetitive, albeit somewhat complicated, part in the encore-opening "Cherbourg." They didn't seem to mind that the band's stand-up bass and keys, when employed, were almost non-existent in the mix.

They were too charmed, clearly, by Condon, his Michael-Buble-for-the-Old-World-countryside crooning, and his songs' uplifting, almost marching band-like crescendos to be bothered with such trivialities.

It was tough to blame them for their excitement: Miscues and all, when the band hit its marks, it did so impressively. "Cherbourg," even with its aforementioned stumble, saw the band playing with a vigor that had previously gone unseen in its 55-minute main set offering. "Postcards From Italy" similarly charmed, if only because it stood out as a more recognizable offering from the band's material. "After the Curtain," meanwhile, felt particularly rousing as a way to bring the mostly slow-moving night to a close.

In a smaller setting, perhaps, it would have come across more intimately, more transporting, less dull. In this one, though, tried as the audience did to force it, the points of relevation came only in spurts.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Am I a huge Beirut fan? Nope. But do I enjoy the band's incredibly charming offerings? Absolutely. How couldn't you? You'd be hard-pressed. I guess, though, that I didn't realize until this show that I'd never listened to Beirut for more than half an hour straight through. Not sure I really want to again; 20 minutes through this set, I glanced down at my watch, sure that an hour had gone by. I was wrong. Clearly.

By The Way: I firmly believe that the setting is mostly what hampered this show for me. A smaller room, or a sit-down venue would've been ideal for this show. Unfortunately, though, it would've handcuffed it, too: Tickets to this show were $30; a smaller room would've meant exorbitantly higher prices.

Random Note: Shout-out to the dude in the nose-ring and massive mohawk that was looking confused, like he'd been duped into thinking Slayer was playing the room on this night.

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