Thursday, May 16, 2024

Concert Review: Beirut, Troker at North Beach Bandshell

With some reservations, it’s fair to say that Miami Beach’s annual, venerable Transatlantic Festival fulfilled its mission of celebrating Miami as a musical crossroads of Europe and the Americas this past Friday at North Beach Bandshell—thanks to two bands making their regional debuts.

Mexican jazz fusionists Troker offered a molten, exciting opening set. On most of the tunes by this Guadelejaran sextet, saxophone and trumpet kept rhythm amid staccato drums, noodling bass and a DJ adding loops and effects. The lead vocalist/saxophonist engaged the crowd with high-pitched call-and-response wails and addressed the audience mostly in Spanish.

Toward the end of the set, the group’s blissful cacophony reduced itself to the sound of two drumsticks clacking against each other and, soon after, a chorus of three cowbells aligned at the front of the stage, building back up to an explosive climax. It was medicine for ailing ears—the soundtrack to a nonexistent film I’d very much like to see.

Troker’s level of energy and audience participation frankly could not be sustained by the headliners. The long-awaited Miami debut of Santa Fe’s Beirut was breezy and note-perfect, but its lack of urgency felt like a come-down after Troker’s magnetism. Perhaps Beirut’s music, which demands careful listening in intimate spaces to be best appreciated, doesn’t lend itself easily to the concert experience. Whatever the reason, an invisible barrier between the artists and the crowd certainly existed.

The set was closer to museum piece than a performance, so quiet that the voices of audience members around me easily eclipsed Zach Condon’s low-key vocals. Even the group’s sparse crowd banter was hushed and retiring, with only trumpeter Kelly Pratt adding any site-specific distinction: He was raised in Kendall, and spoke briefly about the pleasures of returning home.

That said, the songs had the effortless polish of their studio recordings, and the set list, consistent with previous shows, was an egalitarian mix of the band’s four LPs and one EP. Condon switched from what appeared to be mandolin, flugelhorn, trumpet, keyboards and ukulele throughout the set, with the acoustic warmth of the latter satisfying the die-hards on early favorites “Elephant Gun” and “Postcards From Italy.”

The performance hit its stride with the dancy and jubilant “No No No,” followed by the euphoric brass of “Postcards” and the harmonic beauty of “Fener.” Beirut’s encore touched on its myriad world-music influences, reaching South America, the Balkans and French cabaret pop. Yet I couldn’t shake the fact that the band was simply going through the motions. “Thanks for giving us such a good excuse to come down here,” Condon remarked mid-set. I’m just not sure I believe he really wanted to be there.

Beirut set list:

  1. Scenic World
  2. Elephant Gun
  3. East Harlem
  4. As Needed
  5. Perth
  6. Santa Fe
  7. The Akara
  8. No No No
  9. Postcards From Italy
  10. The Peacock
  11. Fener
  12. The Rip Tide
  13. The Shrew
  14. My Night with a Prostitute From Marseille
  15. So Allowed
  16. Nantes

ENCORE

  1. ???
  2. The Gulag Orkestar
  3. Mausoleum
  4. The Flying Cub Cup

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