The Charm Offensive

Beirut's pleasant globetrotter landscapes are wide-eyed but not terribly deep

The Michael Cera of worldly indie-pop gets super-OK.
David Atlas
The Michael Cera of worldly indie-pop gets super-OK.

Perhaps it's unfair to contrast this wild scene with Beirut's, which consists of a few upright ladies doing the wavy-armed Stevie Nicks thing and one gentleman near the front theatrically conducting (maybe he's the "beautiful little boy" guy) amid a sea of law-abiding citizens dutifully obeying the captain's seat-belt sign. The dude in front of me, who a half-hour ago was happily among those wobbling arhythmically, is now half-enthusiastically banging an empty water bottle against the railing in front of him. Yeah, all right, this is unfair: Beirut seeks a different vibe entirely—Balkan Music Box maybe, something more demure and restrained and nuanced. Those can all too easily be code words, alas, for less flattering reactions. Flying Club Cub's "A Sunday Smile" gets at what Beirut seeks to get at best, slow and mournful and atmospheric, letting Zach's basso profundo rise above the din of jousting horns and that omnipresent accordion. He sounds sad, but we don't know why, and it doesn't make us feel particularly sad ourselves. Plenty of basso, not enough profundo. To have that sound, to have that voice, to have all this attention—Zach is miles beyond the curve and primed for a breakthrough (one he's self-effacing and appealing enough to make you hope he achieves), but the result as of now is pretty, but vacant. Perhaps one day soon the captain will not only disable the seat-belt sign but forbid the use of all electronic devices. The Delacorte crowd rises only once during Beirut's set, at its conclusion, to give Zach a standing ovation.

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