Beirut | Manchester

Nights of broken sleep meant I wasn’t prepared for the original plan: Beirut in concert, sandwiched between two half days of exploring the city. Arriving into Manchester on a grey afternoon did nothing to lift my fatigue. An unbroken chain of coffee made me jittery.

Beirut are a band who, to me, have only ever existed between the grooves of vinyl, in YouTube videos and in the words of online interviews. It never occurred to me I’d ever have the chance to see them live, their touring schedule restricted to festival slots, or intimate UK shows whenever I was out of the country.

I needed sleep – though part of me was tempted to hide in the cinema until the gig – but against my better judgement I dropped my bag off in my Airbnb and begrudgingly trudged around the city centre. In my irritated state I only saw bricks and mortar; obstacles I had to navigate as I wandered the streets, killing time before the concert. I had to concede. Giving up on the city, I focused on the evening ahead.

I arrived at the Albert Hall for the doors opening at 7pm. Two hours to wait.

Two hours dragged.

And then, they appeared out from backstage. No longer confined to records, YouTube videos and the words of online interviews; they had developed from familiar sounds and stepped out into a fully formed physical presence.

Zach Condon, the band’s main man paced the stage, round faced, thick brown locks, shadowed stubble. The crowd erupted.

***

Another night of cracked sleep, another few hours of Manchester to force myself through. Again, the thought of giving up and heading to the cinema crossed my mind. I criss-crossed between cafes, fumbling with my camera only once to snap the city’s colourful Chinese gate, before finally giving up and heading to the station. Defeated.

Sunday afternoon: Manchester Piccadilly is a constant stream of bodies, running for trains, missing connections. Forging through the crowd, something made me look up as I brushed past a still figure.

Round face, thick brown locks, shadowed stubble.

Without thinking, I stopped for a double take, surprised by the likeness to last night’s singer. As the Doppelgänger turned to chat to a friend wearing a purple beanie hat – a purple beanie hat I recognised from the previous evening. Condon and a bandmate. A third of Beirut in Manchester Piccadilly’s mass of bodies.

Between the grooves of vinyl, in YouTube videos and in the words of online interviews. That’s all he had ever been. And yet now here he was, less than a metre away.

The previous night Condon had commanded the attention of a packed Albert Hall, centre stage accompanied by flurries of trumpets, trombones and accordion. A gentle orange burned through stained glass windows, bathing him in a soft orange glow. Now, less than 24 hours later, in the sharp light of day, travellers ignored his hunched figure. He sat down on a metal seat, pulled out a magazine.

The serendipity passed. This could have been the making of a meet-cute fit for Hollywood, but it was real life. I went with the flow of the crowd. Another body running for trains. Another missed connection.