The TransAtlantic Festival splashed off it’s 14th year with Beirut as its headlining act and also included local band Kazoots along with the intimidating band Troker. Located so close to the beach you can taste it the North Miami Beach Bandshell a delicious 1961 Miami Modern (MiMo) open-air amphitheater designed by Norman Giller (responsible also for the now demolished Diplomat Hotel as well as the iconic Thunderbird Motel) is an incredibly immersive venue. It makes the perfect setting for a magical night of expansive “world music,” which is typically the connecting symbiosis of the acts that greet attendees of the TransAtlantic Festival. This was a definitively successful evening leading off with Kazoots a band established by descendants of the founders of the band Kazak. Inez Barlatier and Jayan Bertrand picked up the mantle of their families talent and showed great enthusiasm performing against the continued arrivals of what turned out to be a great many Beirut fans. Inez’s vocals in particular were striking as well as the nice blend of musical style they invoked. It was a promising start with a promising local band that deserved the spotlight.
After some reorganization Troker took the stage and blasted into a rich tapestry of a musical set that wafted through various Jazz fusion stylesd. The band features DJ zero who mixed between using his physical Green Vinyl and electronic sampling. Which is a unique feature because he frequently scratched and twisted into the tight compass of the other players extraordinary talents in ways that were magnificent to watch. It really highlighted the difference between the atypical DJ who spends most of his time hyping the crowd and a Turntablist who spends most of his time mixing, queuing, and scratching. There was a fantastic moment of showmanship and musicianship between himself and the drummer Frankie Mares who turned over a Snare to expose the aptly named snares. Mares played with a single drumstick in a scratch off with DJ Zero with the kick serving as the foundation for them both. Gilberto Cervantes was admirable in his solid and majestic trumpet playing, while Christian Jimenez was quick fingered on the keys switching between sounds as diverse as organ, piano and altered electric synth tones. This band was fiery and tight and easily navigated complex arrangements with finesse. They frequently would stop as though the song had capitulated to an ending and then launch full throttled into a secondary or often tertiary movement of the same thematic elements. The tunes were complex and beautiful. Samo Gonzalez is a distinguishably solid bassist who at one point trickled his way through a hectic repetitive Bass line that didn’t fold or fall through a lengthy number in which he served as the rhythmic funk foundation. Arturo Santillanes played a mean, mean saxophone and served as a driving frontman. His abilities on his instrument were startling at times and were beyond verbal description.
Throughout their set it would be easy to mention a list of the greats of jazz saxophone that he seemed to channel from moment to moment. Beirut entered to great fanfare and before their entrance their was time to mingle, smoke and talk. ThirdDream discussed Beirut with several people nearby and found two solid fans who had followed Beirut from their inception. Andrea Linares and Guillermo Rendon extolled the virtues of Beirut describing them as “cozy and intimate”. Aptly describing the different musical influences that Beirut pulls from. This was Beirut’s first Miami concert and Fans had come out of the woodwork. The crowd by this time was diverse in both culture and age. Most knew the songs and immediately sang along before they became entranced by the sometimes open yet solidly arranged songs featuring, most often, two trumpets and a trombone as well as a keyboard player, minimalist drum kit and bass. However the Aaron Arntz didn’t only play an upright piano, Wurlitzer and Synth he also picked up an Accordion at one point, in fact trombonist Ben Lanz also performed admirable background vocals along with Kyle Resnick who played the second trumpet to founder and lead singer Zach Condon.
Beirut was a solo project Zach started in 2006. His voice is original and most easily aligned with Ben Folds and Paul Simon; if one even wanted to try to find a match. What was most striking about them was not the tenacity of their playing. They didn’t play with the complexity of arrangement or bravado of Troker. What they did do was sail perfectly through their set which was mixed onstage to almost identical sonic structure to their recordings. Their skill at faithfully recreating the music the audience came to hear didn’t disappoint the fans and instead entranced them. It seems now that we are so prone to watching artists fake their way through a tapestry of backing tracks and overwrought vocals that what makes Beirut fascinating to watch is not complexity but crispness; akin to that of the fresh air that blew in from the ocean that rested just behind the bandshell. They easily created magical moments and transported the audience above where they stood and into a sonic serenity. the arrangements were artful just as the recordings and the tunes were adeptly written. Instead comparing them to the Police, Brian Wilson or Paul Simon; it is better to merely listen to them- taking the songs for what they are which is a beautifully executed tone painting. Each has its own character yet characterizes Beirut as itself. Simple, exacting, rhythmically diverse, mood enhancing and ideologically complex.
The Rhythm Foundation continues to press forward supporting in their own unique way a blending of styles and musical genres. They have officially taken over management of the Bandshell and The Transatlantic Festival is merely the beginning of a small yet satisfying season that is shore to continue to grow, especially as people continue to seek out intimate and magical adventures in music. Compared to larger festivals like Sunfest or Ultra this is minuscule in attendance, but that’s what makes it huge in personal impact. Majestic magical proximity and humble audience members who are there not to witness, but to be a part of the experience in a perfectly designed setting. If you miss this festival, not to worries. Rhythm Foundation has the full scope on whats to come next on their website! Check out their upcoming series for another moment to enjoy the venue!