with Otouto

Coming out to face an already jam-packed HiFi, Melbourne trio Otouto kicked off a lazy Monday night with their unusual brand of experimental pop. With disjointed drum beats and abstract musical elements, the music leans more towards the experimental side than the pop side, but the addition of Hazel and Martha Brown's captivating vocal harmonies make Otouto's performance an interesting one. Even if the music was a bit too eccentric for some, the natural ease with which the three members play and interact on stage made for a strong opening set.


Proving that a crowd doesn't, in fact, need 45 minutes to reach the peak of their anticipation, Beirut actually came out at the time they were scheduled to start. And as the suitably eclectic crowd let out a roar, the six members calmly took their place amongst their mass of instruments, and got right into it with "Scenic World" off their debut album Gulag Orkestar. At once, the audience was hooked.


Keeping the chit-chat to a minimum, Zach Condon and his ensemble flawlessly worked their way through their 5-year history, playing an array of tracks from their numerous albums and EPs. "The Shrew", "Postcards From Italy" and "Sunday Smile" all appeared early in the set, as did new tracks "Vagabond", "East Harlem" and "Port of Call".


Only four tracks in and not only were the crowd warming up, but so were the band members. As white hand-towels got passed around the stage for them to wipe away the sweat, you realised just how hard these guys play. Expertly switching instruments both within and between songs, Condon and the others proved that they are true musicians, and that their ability to play various instruments (and play them well) really is the foundation of what they do.


The crowd cheered appreciatively for "Nantes", before trumpeter/euphoniumist Kelly Pratt kindly reminded us all to drink a lot of beer because it "cools you down and keeps you hydrated". Fresh from Falls Festival, Beirut were here as part of a world tour to promote their latest offering, The Rip Tide, and in one of the rare moments of speech from the band, Condon said that they'd only been playing festivals in Australia up until then and that it was nice to be in a venue. Showing just a hint of the personality behind the music, the quiet but affable frontman then jokingly said: "It's terrible! Why would you even ask me that?" when asked by an audience member if he liked Australia.


After a rousing performance of "Goshen", and the song about Condon's hometown, "Santa Fe", the band left the stage for the obligatory encore. And whilst most bands seem to come back after about 30 seconds, Beirut actually left us wondering whether they would come back at all. After a solid few minutes of non-stop cheering, Condon returned solo for "The Penalty". Framed by angled spotlights, photographers snapped away as the beautiful acoustics of Condon's ukelele eased through the room.


The last three tracks seemed like a blur as massive, soaring instrumentals rolled one song into the next and the band's energy peaked, each playing their instrument as if their life depended on it. By the time they were done, it was as if the crowd didn't quite know what to do with themselves. Had we not all been standing already, there would have been an overwhelming standing ovation.


Meeting every expectation, Beirut put on a solid performance that I'm sure even Falls punters would have been envious of. Just quietly.

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