A highly anticipated happening, in the making for a long time, energy was released, tension was relieved, and promises were kept on July 9th at the Byblos International Festival. But let me get something off my back first: The website advertised the event as the first show the band will play since their CD release… They played a show the week after that. Inno… tab yalla meshe’.
First of all, Hamed Sinno was composed and behaved properly.
Now that that’s out of the way: Seats were steadily filled and the open space for standing was characterized by people sitting down in little circles while they waited, taking Facebook profile pictures of one another, as fans eventually arrived. Suddenly everybody looked back and started pointing, so I curiously followed their lead, and saw Prime Minister Saad Harirri making his way to his seat. Man has good taste… I thought: “This will inevitably be mentioned in every single review”. Indeed it was… Eventually, the crowd became denser, and almost every seat was filled. The stage was decorated with television screens, some showing static, others random visuals. I liked it. It had a modernistic pop-art thing to it.
The lights dimmed on the audience, and lit up the stage, where one by one the band emerged. Sinno, clad in a traditional abaya (robe), demonstrated his trademark vocal-play (yaaaeaaahowahowahooowww leiyyyleiiyyayayyawwww) as an introduction to a new song, which has actually been played before at Demco, because I do recall the “byeldogh bil 3aghabi” line. What I did notice is that this version of the unknown song was more energetic and punkier.
Sound was superb. This is one of the bigger, more official, events I’ve been to, so I was new to the whole concept of “adequacy”. For your visual needs, there was a camera, filming the band, and that was live-fed, and projected onto two giant screens on either side of the stage. If you just watched the screens you would have actually gotten a pretty cool view, zooming and panning and whatnot. So seeing Gorillaz from a terrible seat won’t be that bad I suppose, unless I sneak into the standing area. *hopes security guards don’t read this blog*
Their album was played in its entirety, as well as some new songs, and the two “orphan songs”, “Zotrine” and “3arous”. I just adore “Zotrine”. But I noticed something which was: When it was being played, Haig Papazian played his violin part that starts out in the middle with just him and the drums then keyboard joining in and everything else following, and I swear, when that violin was humming solo, it was like a guitar-solo or something to the people, who went wild.
Would you have ever imagined average Lebanese people (not classical music aficionados) being like: “Fuck yeah! You shred that violin dude! Rock on!”? Mashrou3 Leila are acting as a sort of vehicle for the popularization of truly pertinent things, like the violin for example, making the mainstream community see that it is not “boring”. Same with lyrics: People’s opinion on gay marriage could greatly be altered if a song is inspiring enough. People who accuse Mashrou3 of selling out or being overhyped should really wake up and see what this actually means. We have a man on the inside. After years of struggle (SoapKills: very close, Scrambled Eggs: only among Frenchies), it’s finally hit a nerve with the mainstream. By “it” I mean “alternative music in Lebanon”. The underground has gotten loud enough. And it’s not like they really changed or anything. The increase in the band’s popularity is due to more people finding out about them, not them changing. Every song they once played in a quaint coffee-shop, they play on the grandest of stages. It’s the people that are changing. This is good indeed.
Hearing the album tracks live was nice. “Min el 6abour” has a neat jazzy-rockabilly-ish breakdown that isn’t on the album version. I can’t remember which song, maybe “Im Bimbillila7”, but Carl Gerges displayed his electronic-music abilities and briefly remixed that song, by providing synth-bass and programmed-drums.
The new songs were just a tease. Though the live incarnations are slightly different, I’m honestly pretty bored of the album. I can bear to part with its songs. But I really really cherished the new songs, “3al Saket”, “Tawous”, that song where the speaker thinks a girl was a guy, and more soon-to-be-classics.
There was a healthy amount of crowd-interaction too, as Sinno would address the audience before every song, giving a brief statement on it. The man is a genuinely humorous character, so it’s good that he is “the voice” (“ba3den mna3mel ana wiyyek kharouf…) A girl was even invited to dance on stage. But that’s when the shooting happened… I never saw that confetti coming.
The crowd was very energetic, and sang along to the songs. Very cool, yet very odd, because no local act has ever pushed people to memorizing lyrics by heart in this manner.
I heard the laugh from “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz. I was perplexed. Then with four hits of a crash cymbal, I had a heart attack. Mashrou3 Leila, were covering, “Clint Eastwood“, by Gorillaz. It was not an exact cover, maybe more a reinterpretation, but it was incredible, as Sinno rapped, violin played the main riff, and the laugh was being semi-scratched. In the end Sinno announces that this isn’t one of their songs, it’s a cover of a song by a little-known band called: Gorillaz. And the crowd went wild…
Couple more songs, a few yells of “ne7na b Byblos” from Sinno, and that was it! Very well executed, not much went wrong. The tape-recorder not working in “Min Al 6abour” wasn’t that big a deal.
During the show, Sinno suggested we buy a shirt. Yes, they were selling t-shirts. I bought one, it was a good quality print.
But the show left me with questions: Now what? They went into hiding before Byblos to make it their big comeback, and build anticipation for it. Their last official show was one they had to have in a warehouse to hold the 1000 plus people, and now Byblos, where hordes of fans were summoned. But Byblos is done. Where will they play next? A pub in Gemmayzeh or Mal3ab el Balade’? I don’t think less people will come to future shows, in fact the opposite. Where to put them? How often will they be playing? Perhaps we don’t need to worry about that for now, because if you recall, they briefly announced playing abroad. I for one am very curious about these little details because it’s the first time something like this happens. Maybe in the future, when the next big band gets popular, I’ll say: “Well back in the day, Mashrou3 Leila did this, so it would be wise if X does something along those lines”. But for now, we just have to wait and see.