Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Hawk And A Hacksaw + Beirut - Zach @ The Luminaire

So you probably all know what happened. Beirut frontman Zach Condon was taken ill at the weekend, forcing the cancellation of an appearance at Parisian festival Les Inrocks and - sadly for us - their first headline show in London. Hope you're on the mend Zach. Having seen them triumphantly win over the crowd at The Roundhouse just seven days previously, it was genuinely disappointing not to be able to see the 10-ish strong crew up close in an intimate setting (and potentially falling off the very small stage). I was almost tempted to turn around and head back to the ‘hood were it not for the draw of A Hawk And A Hacksaw.

Rather than cancel the show altogether, fellow Beirut collaborators and supporting act for this evening AHAAH stepped up to the vacated mark and treated the crowd to a scintillating set that more than made up for the absence of the main attraction.

Their latest outing ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ is a lovely record. It’s of the same ilk as Beirut (AHAAH came first mind) although more mournful and sombre with more instrumental moments which on occasion have the potential to scare me*. Obviously I’m not an expert on traditional eastern European music but I can imagine some of this stuff being pumped out over the sound system of some Romanian cafe and the locals being none-the-wiser. I’m probably talking absolute rubbish though.

I think I had given the record a couple of spins before the show and I was still completely unaware of what to expect, particularly after viewing the advice given in the footnotes of the album sleeve (“Headphones are recommended for this recording”). Would that automatically mean that they would be awful live? Plus, there are two of them – Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost – so how on earth would they go about recreating the gypsy-folk wall of sound?

In reply to those questions:
No, it doesn’t and, quite easily actually.
[It’s probably worth pointing out that it’s only been couple of weeks since the pair headlined this exact same venue. So they probably had a heads-up about where the toilets were located, that sort of thing.]

With accordion strapped onto his person, Jeremy is quite clearly the leader of this duo whilst partner Heather provides harmonious strings and vocals. Surprisingly, bearing in mind they are a two-piece, they managed to envelope the room with their music quite emphatically. It was the introduction of the pseudo-one-man-band paraphernalia that transform this show from a good one to a great one.

The only real way to illustrate what Jeremy looks like is to show you this photo (which doesn’t actually give a lot away).
Here he is sitting at a rudimentary drum kit. Suffice to say, the hat is not just for decoration. It has a drumstick attached to the side with which he hits a cymbal. What you can’t see from the photo is he also has another drumstick strapped to one leg hitting another drum part and three miniature bass drums or something to that degree. So he does all that whilst playing out a tune on his accordion and singing. You really have to see it to understand but it’s really impressive.

Together with tea-drinking Heather the audience was treated to something quite magical on the eyes and the ears. The sweeping rhythm of the accordion meld with the strings and carry you along – dancing feet and all – through the gamut of their repertoire, briefly visiting mariachi marching bands, Romanian funeral processions and travelling gypsy carnivals along the way.

The glorious sight of remaining Beirut members taking up their non-fatal weapons to join in on the last few songs was just what the doctor ordered. They traversed the audience, encouraging punters to sing and play and generally have a laugh with them. They really lifted the mood of this already quite happy crowd and left them crying out for more.

It certainly kept me smiling on the lonely journey home and begging to put ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ on my stereo. Now that’s the sign of a good band don’t you think?

Download: A Hawk And A Hacksaw - The Way The Wind Blows
Download: Beirut - The Bunker

Do yourself a favour and get The Way The Wind Blows and Gulag Orkestar from Amazon or get it from somewhere like Rough Trade where the staff are quite friendly and knowledgeable.

* Not in the same way that Scott Walker’s latest one frightens the living daylights out of me. Those of a nervous disposition would do well to have other people in the house when playing ‘The Drift’. I nearly fell over in the kitchen because of it.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Great gig, good review.
I remember being very disappointed in the legion of hipsters ahead of me in the queue who wanted refunds on hearing of the lack of Beirut.
I thought Kid Harpoon was a real surprise.
Of course, playing A Hawk And A Hacksaw makes my housemate come into my room and do bad morris dancing. Natch.