Beirut / GOASTT – For Noise, Pully – 21.08.2014

I had wanted to see Beirut live for a long time and was really looking forward to this one. While they tend to get mentioned in the same breath as other indie-folk-rock bands like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, their sound is quite unique. Brass instruments are to the fore, with trombone and a pair of trumpets (one played by the lead singer) featuring in most songs and even a sousaphone making the odd appearance here and there. But it’s the very talented accordionist that is the musical heart of the band, something that wasn’t so obvious to me until I saw them live.

Beirut at For Noise 2014

Their use of brass takes in many different musical styles along the way: from Mexican mariachi to English colliery bands, via German oompah music and through various European classical styles, with the aforementioned accordion giving it all a slightly Gallic feel.  And yet it still sits very well in the context of a rock festival. They played most of their most recent album The Rip Tide and quite a bit from The Flying Cup Club, along with one or two new songs that bode well for a future release. All in all it was a really enjoyable, uplifting and musically impressive performance.

Earlier that evening the main stage featured Sean Lennon’s latest project GOASTT (The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger). This was (oddly) a little like a homecoming gig for him, as he had attended the very expensive Le Rosey boarding school just down the lake in Rolle and some of his old school-friends were in attendance. He spoke in French between almost every song and came across as quite a nice chap.

Sean Lennon at For Noise 2014

He looks and sounds A LOT like his famous dad, and the sound of the band was generally quite Beatles-ish, sometimes very much so. (I thought they were about to launch into a version of Because at one stage.) It’s not unusual, of course, nor is it a bad thing for a band to sound like they’ve been influenced by the Beatles, and perhaps Sean Lennon has a better excuse than most. Nonetheless, I think I was expecting him to have made more of an effort to distance himself from that legacy, at least musically.

It was nice to see that he has no airs and graces about him. I guess he’s as financially secure as the son of a Beatle would be, so he’s probably performing because that’s what he wants to do. I noticed that his band members packed away their own instruments and equipment after the set, so it looks like he’s running quite a modest musical operation. And, most importantly, the music itself was good, solid (Beatlesque) rock – very enjoyable.

The For Noise Festival is one of the many smaller rock festivals that take place in the Lac Léman region throughout the year. Pully is a suburb of Lausanne and the festival site is a wooded valley set a bit back from the lakeside. There’s just one main stage and a couple of small rooms with very small stages. It was my first visit, but won’t be my last: easy to get to, not too expensive (although not cheap either at CHF 60 for the evening) and much more intimate than, say, Caribana, which is itself much smaller than Paléo.

Here’s some footage of Beirut in concert. Nantes is probably their best known song.