Beirut and Helado Negro were worth the trek through the blizzard

featuring Helado Negro

February 12, 2019 at House of Blues

Backed by a simple curtain of color, all attention was paid to the six men on stage, and rightfully so. They were a well-oiled, masterful team, producing melody after melody without a hitch.

I had originally heard about Beirut from a couple friends of mine who are huge fans of their work, so I had a couple songs I was hoping to hear from the band heading into this show. However, I didn’t have the greatest idea of what to expect from the opener, Helado Negro. Regardless, I have to say that I was not let down in the slightest. The lead vocalist, Roberto Lange, walked out on stage in a bright yellow t-shirt, with even brighter flashing lights behind him. He thanked us all for joining him, despite the weather, and gave us a little background into his music and personal history. Then, with some incredibly smooth instrumentation backing him, Lange began crooning through his set list.

After a few songs, it didn’t take long to realize why this act was opening for Beirut. At one point, backed by a duo of saxophones, Lange passionately sang over a fascinating variety of sounds. It’s hard to say what genre Helado Negro exemplified best. There was a strong Latin influence, with Lange being from Miami and a proud son of Latin American immigrants. However, there was a distinct electronic element to many of the songs. Notably, Lange manually manipulated a synth on stage for one of the tracks, and it was definitely a welcome switch-up amongst the wave of low key ballads.

The highlight was a single off the band’s upcoming project, This Is How You Smile, set to release March 8th. The song, “Pais Nublado,” had a very moody rhythm as Lange tip-toed over the consistent guitar strums, alternating between Spanish and English lyrics about his resolve to stay strong in this cloudy country we live in.

Photo by Zach Mega for WRBB.

Beirut was up next, and they received a warm welcome from the audience. The band opened with fan favorite, “When I Die,” the opening track off of their latest release, Gallipoli. From there, Beirut never came up short, moving from one indie-folk anthem to another, never missing a beat. By the time they got to songs I knew and loved such as, “Santa Fe,” or “Postcards from Italy,” the crowd was fully into it. Everyone was either swaying with their eyes closed or fervently fixated at the artistry on display before them. Backed by a simple curtain of color, all attention was paid to the six men on stage, and rightfully so. They were a well-oiled, masterful team, producing melody after melody without a hitch.

Photo by Zach Mega for WRBB.

The pinnacle of the whole show was “Elephant Gun.” Taking absolutely nothing away from the keys, drums, or bass, which were all on point, the soaring horns absolutely stole the show. There’s just something somber, yet triumphantly defiant about the way Beirut plays their horns which accurately embodies everything the band is about. They’re the band’s greatest assets, and they shone throughout their lengthy set list. It felt as if the combined efforts of Condon, Ben Lanz on trombone, and Kyle Resnick on trumpet, could blast through any complaint one could have had about their performance or skillset. It was clearly what everyone had come to hear, as cheers rang out every time Condon paused his eclectic serenading to play his trumpet.

After practically every song, he would methodically shake his instrument clean with mindless professional authority. After a few more songs, the band wrapped it all up with perhaps their biggest song, “Nantes,” a ballad named after a French city with subdued, forlorn lyrics of scorn and longing. It was a beautiful way end to the meandering performance, and once it was over, no one moved. Instead, the crowd rewarded the musicians with an impressively steady round of rousing applause until Condon and the band came back for their encore. After a tight 3 tracks, bookended perfectly by the melancholic, slowly winding, “The Gulag Orkestar,” the band was ready to say their final goodbyes.

Trudging back through the snow that night, I felt as if I had just gotten out of a folk sermon, in the absolute best way possible. But I’ll concede that it wasn’t a show everyone would like. It was one of the longer shows I’ve been to, and with both acts similar in tone and energy, it was extremely soothing. It was a show that rewarded patience, with lyrics about life lessons, serving not so much as lectures, but rather shared experiences that Lange and Condon felt needed to be expressed through song. Any artist should be able to appreciate that sentiment. Beirut especially was entirely captivating on stage. They were so clearly invested in the music they were making that it made for a very authentic experience. I’d personally recommend checking out both acts if you haven’t heard a song from either. I know I’ll definitely be diving deeper into both of their catalogs.

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