For this year's TransAtlantic Festival, the Rhythm Foundation scored what was possibly its biggest coup in the event's 14-year history in bringing Beirut to the North Beach Bandshell for the group's first Florida performance. Beirut, a six-piece based out of New York, blends influences as varied as mariachi trumpets, Balkan horns, and Steely Dan jazz rock, all delivered with a sensitive croon from lead singer Zach Condon, a rare frontman who can effortlessly switch between both the ukulele and the flugelhorn.
Beirut's first show in Miami brought a big crowd to the Bandshell, which presented its own set of problems. Many attendees were diehards singing along to the lyrics, but there were also many present just out looking to get their drink on. This dichotomy was fine for Beirut's more upbeat danceable songs like "Santa Fe" and "Perth," but it was jarring to hear all the chit-chat during the band's more melancholy songs like "The Peacock." As Condon sang the refrain about a fallen soldier, you could hear the same three drunken conversations about what to do after the show was over.
The band seemed game, though (perhaps in part because trumpeter Kyle Resnick, who told the crowd he was from Miami, might have warned his bandmates that his hometown doesn't do confessional introspection too well). Beirut performed for nearly two hours, including a four-song encore featuring an eclectic assortment of instrumentation. Trumpets, trombones, keyboards, accordions, and drums all came together to form a quiet symphony.
More universally appreciated were the louder openers. Kazoots, a local five-piece that dub themselves Afro-indie-rock, took the stage at 7 p.m. Singer Inez Barlatier asked midway though the set: "This is Haitian music — do you like it?" The crowd cheered to indicate that, yes, they in fact do. If you've ever heard Kazoots live, you know that it's damned near impossible not to like it.
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But one of the unexpectedly most beloved sets of the evening belonged to Troker, a six-member band from Mexico that plays an aggressive form of jazz, mixing horns with guitars, drums, and turntables. It was mostly all instrumental, but saxophonist "El Tiburón" Santillane made one exception when he led the crowd in a call and response of bird calls.
"We're from a land of tequila and mariachis," he said in hesitant English. "We have a lot of party in our blood." And so Miami learned, once again, with the help of the Rhythm Foundation, that we're not so different after all. Music brings us together, regardless of where we're from.
Whether from Mexico, Haiti, or New York. Our blood is the same. It too has a lot of party in it.