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- Paradiso, Amsterdam »
- Beirut »
The Paradiso emanates the positive aspects of Baudelairean modernity. Named after the French theorist Baudelaire obsessed with, among other things, modernity, it is a sort of seamless interweaving of the old and new that combines the lessons of the old with the surprise and anticipation of the new. To start, the Paradiso was a church at some point in its history. It remains adorned with colourful stained glass windows and a sense of the sacrilege, as if for every beer downed there is one mirrored by an inebriated soul in the past stumbling into the pews confessing to drinking too much. This feeling, that mingling of the sacred and secular, dominates the place. Regardless of what is staged, a certain overarching omnipresence of sorts hovers over the music, effacing the walls and filling me with ideas to ponder while awaiting Beirut. On stage, an unnamed Dutch duo opening up the night is just awful, and I am losing concentration. Instead my mind floats to the ceiling, where the same wooden posts that propped up the church rest a few feet from the stained glass behind the stage. This band is that bad, really, and I am impatient. Might as well drift away, because Beirut is up next.
Beirut soaks its melodic city squares in the sounds of both old and new. While Zach Condon’s blend of contemporary folk music, all things Balkan and waltz hark back to a town festival somewhere deep in Croatia a hundred years ago, Beirut’s blend is as contemporary as it is historic. Whatever authentic is, this isn’t it; it is, however, perfectly suited for the Paradiso. A slew of acoustic instruments line the stage – instruments that were created, tested and perfected long before the 20-somethings I am waiting on begin playing them. A ukulele mingles with a mandolin, yet both are overshadowed by a double bass, illuminated by the glare peering through the stained glass. It is a beautiful set-up. Nine folks emerge, eight boys and a female violinist. Zach Condon is in the middle, the 21-year-old American who thought of all these sounds whilst travelling through Eastern Europe and beyond. Without a word, everyone picks up an instrument and launch into ‘Nantes’. The crowd is silent. The room darkens. The blending of old and new begins. Modernity at its finest.
It all moves so fast. No song is over three or four minutes, as Condon and company pick up various instruments fluidly and without speech, continually launch into songs off either album. An hour disappears in what feels like 15 minutes. Instead I am awash in three- or four-part horn crescendos, steadfast mandolin strumming and Condon’s whale-like, cautiously operatic voice. It all screeches by, or at least that is what it feels like. Suddenly everything lies in the realm of history. The new is now old. The songs are stuck to the walls. I cannot loosen their grip. Yet, everything is done and dusted. The show is over.
Every song is a triumph in this room. The trumpets are tranquil; the mandolins and acoustic guitar guide the melody like an ancient sage carries a story and everything, absolutely everything, sounds in its place. Beirut sound so right here, right now in this room, yet history is the muse. ‘Postcards From Italy’ is serene, almost cathartic, while both ‘A Sunday Smile’, ‘Gulag Orkestar’ and ‘Canals of Our City’, however abridged, revive this old soul churning about in the Paradiso in every note. It’s as if the building is finally given the chance to speak alongside the music, instead of being forced to just listen to it. Plus the crowd – DiS included – is rapturously appreciative or eerily silent after each take; so intensely respectful.
The atmosphere, a commonality between the classic and modern, is truly inspiring. I bet the first person that gazed at the completed stained glass and thanked god for the beauty must share the feelings enveloping the venue tonight. Different context, sure, but the rest is much of the same.
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