Review: Beirut @ Masonic Temple, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

10Oct07

I saw Beirut and the Fifth Veil play at the Masonic Temple in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn on the 20th. I was just as excited to see the building as I was to see the band when I went. I had seen the outside of the building many times, but had never been inside.  From the outside, it’s an imposingly simple box, like a giant arc from Indiana Jones or something.  There’s little decoration other than the suggestion of Greco-Roman columns, but it is rather austere.

 

When you go inside the large, ornate doors, you were greeted by two huge hanging pictures of the (I’m not sure what the Mason lingo is here) king and queen of the lodge. They were both African- American and were dressed in some kind of ceremonial garb. I got the tickets, and headed into the auditorium, which was a large, old two-storied hall with wooden seats.

 

I absorbed the scene for a minute, before deciding to go up to the second floor balcony and sit. The art on the walls was amazing; kind of geometric, vaguely Egyptian I would say. There were no depictions of human or animals form at all, and the colors were rather subdued. It was somewhat similar to Islamic art in that there were no depictions of human or animal form, only abstract, geometric designs.  I was surprised because I had been expecting to see stuff similar to the wonderful Taschen book Alchemy and Mysticism.

 

 

I expected to see some esoteric, figurative symbolism in the art, but there was none.  From the 2nd story balcony, I could see well.  It reminded me of an old concert hall and I imagined Abraham Lincoln sitting in the balcony in a top-hat before he was shot.  It was obvious that the hall had seen better days.  I imagine that 100 years ago the hall was the center of the community, socially and culturally and it was shiny and new.  But the decline of it seemed to follow the waning numbers of Masons and their influence as an organization.  Their numbers peaked in the 1950s at over four million following the war, but has currently dipped to less than half. 

 

For the sake of the neighborhood and the old, beautiful building, I was happy to see it so filled with young hipsters.  The old hall felt alive again, and I wondered if the hall could become a new, much-needed focal point in Clinton Hill for art and music shows.  Why not have more shows there?  There really is no good revenue nearby for the Pratt art kids and others in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area.

 

Beirut themselves were amazing.  The band members were shockingly young (I’d never seen even pictures of them), but the lead singer commanded the stage.  After the first song, despite the singer’s urging, the crowd was still sitting.  At the conclusion of the song, two kind of geeky fans who were standing, enthralled and jamming by themselves, yelled out unabashedly, “Hallelujah!”.  Everyone laughed at the naked enthusiasm (very “unhipster-like” behavior- to appear so openly enthused about something), but after the giggles died away the singer replied, “You guys should be more like them.” 

Responding seemingly in unison, the whole two front rows stood up and moved forward.  An electric excitement filled the hall and the remaining audience members also stood and moved towards the stage.  The band continued to whip and whip the crowd into a euphoric sway with their gypsy/folk-inspired music, swaying hands in the air, conducting the audience like they were a symphony instrument of equal importance in the piece.  I got goosebumps. 

The layering of Beirut’s songs, the trumpet solos with the inspired drumming, the ukeleles, the crescendos—everything felt right in that hall with that music, and I have to say that I’ve been to a lot of shows in my time here on the planet, but few were as memorable as that one, and I think many others in the audience agreed.  It was a mythic performance at a memorable venue, and was well worth the $26 or so.

A good review from a previous Beirut show in 2006, when the band was still green, can be found here.  It’s clear, despite their age, that they’ve progressed a lot.

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