Show Review: Dan Sin Live @ EM Chill (May 6, 2011)

Photo by: Me.

On May 6, Danielle Balabane would once again take to the stage as Dan Sin to perform a set of vocal-fueled tunes.

The first time I saw him live in March, he utilized a loop pedal and some effects pedals along with some vocal instruments such as a mouth harp, didgeridoo, and glass bottle.

Just as last time, he performed the same set again, this time adding a couple of new pieces afterwards. The performance featured all kinds of vocal techniques, such as beatboxing, Buddhist chanting, and something along the lines of Tuvian throat singing. I must say he’s got quite a versatile voice and doesn’t hesitate pushing it to its limits. This time around, Dan Sin also occasionally made use of the drum set available at EM Chill, which was not the case earlier at Walimat Warde’. This, as well as briefly being joined by Stephane Rives on saxophone added an extra layer of improvisation to the already semi-spontaneous vocal compositions (as in, the elements of each composition are specified, but their progression is improvised).

I do have a complaint however, which is that there isn’t that much variation between once piece and another. Drumbeats sound very similar and the tone of bass lines is nearly identical, save for a couple exceptions. I know it’s difficult to create extreme variation when all you use is your voice, but there are a lot of options. For example, the drumbeats Dan Sin makes are quite technical and fast, but to mix it up, they could be simplified (kick – hi hat- snare – hi hat – kick – kick – snare – hi hat?) with effects added perhaps. There’s room for development.

 Supposedly, Dan Sin is working on a release of recorded material which I am looking forward to, but for now, his stage show is a peculiar musical spectacle everybody has to see at least once.

Mouths from the South

For those unfamiliar, Shaabeh bi T-Marbouta is a new series of events held at T-Marbouta (as the name implies) showcasing local MCs and hip hop artists. Well I’m a Beiruti and the majority of alternative local acts I’ve seen have been from Beirut as well. I had heard from a friend that Saida has had some hip hop action going on for a while and when he shared this track with me, I was intrigued.

As luck would have it, the second Shaabeh featured a couple Saidawi rappers, but this third edition had the whole package (not literally): Illegitimate Mind Disorder (or IMD), Bull Pup, XZE, Sawt el Dameer, and even the young producer Big Flow who provided the beats for all the aforementioned MCs.

 First up was Sawt el Dameer rapping in Arabic. Content-wise it wasn’t anything new; politics, society, the usual. He certainly did not lack energy or charisma though.

 Next was Bull Pup who raps in English, starting off with an acapella. Right off the bat you could tell that his style and subject matter were somewhat different. He was more focused on punchlines, wordplay, and cultural references, all of which don’t get enough love, even in English. I can’t recall the entire performance exactly, but I think the style of beats doesn’t quite match his lyrics. More laid-back tunes might better suit the lyrics than aggressive ones. 

 After two solo performances, he supported XZE, who also recites his rhymes in English, on backing raps. XZE’s style was more along the lines of Jedi mind Tricks or Immortal Technique. Though I’m not too much into that style, he did it well. That is until he did a second track which could basically fit right into a Masari album. Well he did warn of this being a club track, so I guess… no, even if you give warning, there is no need for this crap here in this non-club setting. The irony was that the song was aimed at females, and there were only a handful of ladies present.

 Finally, it was Illegitimate Mind Disorder, the duo consisting of MCs Menace and Mobin. They too adopted that “philosophical” lyrical style XZE had used earlier, but I’d say they were the best to do it overall. I must also add that Menace rapped a few verses in Arabic and they were just as good as his English ones.

 All in all, I think this has proven to me that the fiercest competitors Beiruti rappers have are the Saidawis, who clearly have the upper hand when it comes to English language rhymes. 

 So make sure to check them out whenever they’re in town.

Show Review: Mashrou3 Leila HIV/ AIDS Awareness Benefit Concert @ AUB (Dec 9, 2010)

I gotta hand it to Mashrou3 Leila. If I were probably the biggest band in Lebanon, I too would not hand myself out like Halloween candy, but instead, make the public crave me. The last live appearance they made (in Lebanon, as a full band) was last July’s unforgettable Byblos performance. So they recently made a comeback to raise money for AIDS. But they weren’t just playing as the Mashrou3 Leila we’ve been seeing for the past few years. They assembled a string septet of violins and cellos. Yes, they pulled a Metallica, a Portishead, a Cut Chemist  if you will (ok, so Cut Chemist isn’t infamous for doing this, but I thought I’d make you a recommendation…). Except with a seven-piece string ensemble not a whole orchestra.

 People sat down in the pews of AUB’s assembly hall (which is sort of like a church). The band came out, followed by the string septet that was the twist of the night. They were all quite young, but I’m sure they wouldn’t get rookies for this kind of thing. Taking the place of Ibrahim Badr was Miles Jay on upright bass. Omaya Malaeb was on a grand piano, instead of her usual red keyboard synthesizer. As the first song was played, you could also tell that Carl Gerges was holding back with his drumming, going for more classical percussion (I think he had a timpani down there, or just a huge tom). Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher were playing acoustic and electric guitars respectively, Haig Papazian on violin, and Hamed Sinno lending his voice as usual.

 A negative consequence of the aforementioned church-like venue was that the music sounded fine while the vocals were slightly indiscernable due to the heavy reverb due to the acoustics of the structure. I was glad to hear some of the more (as of yet) elusive songs, such as “Abtak Safra”, and… the other ones whose titles I don’t know. I eagerly await recordings. I think this is the first time I hear the original (demo) version of “Shim el Yasmine”, not the album version. Even the crowd got to participate when unknown to Papazian, Sinno would request the crowd sing him “Happy Birthday”™. Though the songs were performed flawlessly, I would like to elaborate on something I was unsatisfied with:

 They could have done more with the string septet. There is a difference between expansion and multiplication. I noticed that the septet was (not at all times, but mainly) playing the melodies that Papazian would usually play solo on violin along with him. This amplified the tunes and added depth to them, but was not really that drastic an addition to the whole song. I am not claiming this did not come out sounding pleasant or that it ruined the songs, but they were given this resource, this opportunity, and they could have gotten more out of it.

This was a chance to redefine the songs and give them new character (people could have started differentiating between “Raksit Leila” and “Raksit Leila (Orchestral Version)”). That was kinda one of the reasons I was eager to witness the performance in the first place: “I will not be hearing “El 7all Romansy” tonight… I will be hearing “El 7all Romansy (ORCHESTRAL VERSION)! Only on this once-in-a-lifetime occassion will this version be played!” But it ended up being “El 7all Romasy (Violin parts sounding deeper and more layered Version). In some songs however, they did indeed play parts that were not in the original songs, like in “3al 7ajez”, or even play along with instruments other than violin, like in “Min el 6abour” where they played the bassline. I think for the most part, the cellos and violins were pretty much playing the same parts in unison; multiplying the tune by seven!

I do realize that this could be because they simply didn’t have enough time to compose new parts for the string section to play, that’s perfectly understandable…but they didn’t really have to be elaborate or anything! I wouldn’t have scoffed at basic tunes and repetitive riffs, since I’m no classical music aficionado. I don’t care! Just keep it interesting! Alas, a missed opportunity… but it was still cool though.

 Though unsettlingly too short (and encore-less), it was pretty special and I think it WAS something different, but the string septet which had been assembled just for this occasion was not exploited to its full potential.

 Whether I liked it or not, those 25,000 L.L went towards a good cause!

Show Review: Hamra Streets Festival – Maraya 2010 (Spetember 11 & 12, 2010)

The Hamra Streets Festival- Maraya 2010 was an eagerly anticipated three day event, especially the last two days, which featured a series of musical performances going on simultaneously on three different stages. So there were lots of choices and a lot of planning in advance; sort of like Fete de la Musique, except with fewer stages and all on one street. The lineup was not as you would expect however. The usual suspects (The Incompetents, Zeid and The Wings, Fareeq el Atrash, etc…) were included, but also some lesser known names, and some rarities which I liked to catch a glimpse of, regardless of how known they were. Let’s see what went down!

 ~The First Day~

Zeid and The Wings were up first, scheduled to commence at 4:00. The concert began three hours later than scheduled. I would say this was probably due to the fact that setting up the stages took longer than expected (since the streets were completely empty for the parade that took place the day prior). This was at the Starbucks stage.

 Meanwhile, at the Fransabank stage! *Batman swirl transition*: Ram6 was starting just on time. This was honestly the best I have seen him to date (note: I have only seen him perform a handful of times). He had two other rappers supporting him, which spiced things up a bit since he had someone to interact with onstage and stuff. The beats were nice and funky (produces them himself by the way), there was a healthy amount of crowd interaction throughout, and the people were into him too; well done sir!

 Back at the Starbucks stage! : It was 7:00, and Zeid and The Wings had just started playing their set (after sound checking on the spot). Honestly, they’ve given better shows; maybe because those were for better audiences. Zeid and The Wings were booked at 4:00, as “the starters”; the warm-up. Not too fierce and engaging, just light and danceable reggae-pop-rock. Their set is… set! No matter when or where it is played, it can’t be pumped up (though it could be softened, but the situation didn’t call for that). The music is not too flexible (since you can’t exactly alter a pre-recorded track right then and there to suit the atmosphere). That night, it was played for a restless crowd who had been waiting three hours for something, anything (people were watching the sound check… taking videos of it… the sound check). It wasn’t their fault that people didn’t get chills when “Sah el Nom” was played. That’s just the style, the non-negotiable style! Unfortunately, the circumstances under which it was presented were not as originally intended, thus diminishing its effect.

 Over at the Fransabank and Jack & Jones stages, things were presumably going according to schedule. Not that I was there; I was patiently waiting for The Incompetents to go on.

 And at the Starbucks stage: The Incompetents were sound checking, before playing their set. This was one of their best shows yet. There were new arrangements (every single song from their sole debut album was re-invented), a couple of new songs (or new covers, I dunno), and a lot of energy (energy and toys, don’t forget the toys). It’s funny to think how people who saw them for the first time that night left with the impression that “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” has always been an upbeat disco-y song.

 Following them, “JLP” broke musical barriers and put their careers on the line when they played acoustic covers of popular chart hits. Thus, I decided to just beat it beat it, just beat it beat it….

 I briefly returned to this very stage later on to see Smooth Acoustics, a band described as playing “acoustic covers of hip hop songs”, about to do an acoustic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” *commits harakiri*. (Ok, maybe they played actual hip hop after I left, so I won’t judge… much).

 As previously mentioned, the schedule at the Starbuck stage was shifted three hours ahead. According to reliable sources (A.K.A people who were there), the artists had to shorten their sets in order to be able to squeeze everything in before 12:00, when it was agreed upon that the festivities would cease for the evening. That’s what happened on the ill-fated Starbucks stage at least. The Fransabank stage was ahead of schedule even, and I guess the Jack & Jones stage was fine as well. And thus I missed out on some acts I had been eager to see…

 

 ~The Next Day~

I had higher hopes for Sunday since the stages are all set-up from the day before, so all that had to be done was do sound checks in the morning and that’s it!

 First up on the Fransabank stage were Vahan and The Revolution of Ants. I think this should update you on previous issues I’ve had with them. One of the features of this group is the constantly shifting lineup. Today, they consisted of two percussionists, a vocalist, and Vahan Papazian himself on sitar, and later on, Armenian tar, electric guitar, and manning the synths. What I noticed here was that though they were still a loose flowing jam ensemble, they are gradually adopting slightly more structure, organization, and stability. For example, some of their pieces now have titles and even lyrics. They’re not exactly songs with verses and choruses, but lyrics are lyrics. An aspect that needs to be worked on is having better interaction between the live instrumentation and the playback. As is, the play button is hit, and the drums, bass, and extra effects start looping, everything else joins in, then at the end, everything stops and the play button is hit once again, ending the song. The loop doesn’t have to be a loop even; the drums and other elements could be gradually built up, silenced at points, just… produced! This could bring two advantages: The first, having a less monotonous sound, and the second: having a fixed length for each song, which is an inevitable fate. Even classical Indian ragas have fixed lengths! One of the songs called “You Turn Me Blue” was reminiscent of trip-hop a la SoapKills. In one song they were joined by Peter Jam on acoustic guitar, who sang with the group a song about peace and love. I liked the fact that the sitar wasn’t just swirling all over the place, but playing the melody along with the guitar. See, what did I tell you? Structure and stability! Finally, they were joined by Mohamad Hodeib of the band Wled el Balad. Papazian played a distorted metal riff on his electric guitar, while Hodeib sing-rapped his Arabic lyrics about aliens invading Beirut, backed by percussions and occasionally repeating onomatopoeic chants from the vocalist. The revolution is far from complete, but it’s making progress.

 On the Jack & Jones stage were Shake Well Before Use, a band who cover punk rock songs, with a couple of originals. Though they are a cover band, I was impressed with particular things about them. They played pure punk instead of the moregenerally acceptable pop-punk (Blink 182, The Offspring (although I love The Offspring, but they’ve been crappy these last couple of years), etc…); they did not compromise the genre and its spirit in order to appeal to the mainstream audience. Then there are some peculiarities such as their young ages, the vocalist being female, but not merely some girl plucked from the conservatoire solely for her voice, instead, a person who shares the overall attitude with the rest of the musicians and has the requirements of a punk vocalist (which aren’t too extravagant mind you), and the drummer does backing vocals too, which is also a rarity. If they ever reach a point where their set is 100% original, they could be the successors to the dead/dying genre that is Lebanese punk. Will Scrambled Eggs ever play “songs” again? Is Lazzy Lung’s pop-punk all we have left? Has any of you ever heard of Detox? (They’re terrible).

 7:00 PM, Starbucks stage: The band Wled el Balad was to play. I had only seen the aforementioned Hodeib perform an acoustic set with a percussionist before, but never the full band. At first, the crowd (95% of which really should have stayed home today and yesterday) were dubious of this odd dude with the dreadlocks and what he had to tell them, but as the band played their first couple Arabic rock (blues/ jazz/ reggae) songs, they warmed up to them. Walad are sort of like a simplified Mashrou3 Leila. The Arabic lyrics are witty and tackle unconventional topics, such as love, drugs, and other social issues young people would care to hear about, except the music is a bit less intricate and easier to digest; a fusion of genres not too drastic, which would be rock, blues, and a bit of jazz and reggae. I’m not implying that Walad’s style aims to satisfy less-demanding listeners with low musical expectations, but merely that it is not of the same degree of alternativeness as other acts categorized as “alternative”. By the end of the performance, the people craved more (oh NOW you want more… 45 minutes means 45 minutes, bitches) Though this was my first time seeing Walad, I’m sure this was a landmark performance that earned them that all essential public credibility.

 There was nothing worth seeing for about three hours… well Banana Cognacs were playing at the Starbucks stage at 11:00, but I had to head to the Jack and Jones stage to see:

 Munir Khauli, the man who gave birth to Arabic rock back in the mid-80s, A.K.A the man who’s style is probably engraved into your subconscious through the local media, since he’s responsible for several original TV show openings (for instance the first two “La Youmal” themes (before the current copyright infringing Akon rip-off) and product jingles (such as the X-Tra juice one). Anyway, he played his set of old school Lebanese comedy rock. Subject matter ranged from such pressing issues as commenting on the state of television these days to more whimsical ones such as the impact that his child’s name could have on his (if he names his child Tique, he shall have to live with being Bou Tique, etc…) (that was more of a comedy skit than a song though). I’ve only seen him once before, and I must admit that the previous time was more enjoyable. Munir did do much more narration and storytelling between songs than necessary, which majorly affected the length of the set (in musical content I mean).

 So that was it.

 One last point: The schedule was amorphous and ambiguous. No brochures were printed (if they were, I guess there were only 50 copies or something) and also, the organizers were trying to fit in as much acts as they could, adding new acts each day and shuffling slots. The schedule would be modified on a daily basis! Typically, there should be a point where they say “Ok, we have until this time to book artists, after that the schedule is not subject to alterations! Capiche?” But no. I should have mentioned this before, but Khauli was scheduled to be on the Fransabank stage, and all of a sudden he was playing on the stage at the exact opposite end of the street. This wasn’t all bad though. Walad were one of the late additions and people loved them; squeezing them in paid off. But for the future, I offer the same advice I did earlier to Vahan and The Revolution of Ants: structure, organization, stability!

 That’s it for the music, but overall it was a good project and I hope it becomes an annual tradition, though I personally find it essential to point out that Hamra is a pretty neat place with or without a 3 day festival in its honor. Going to school in the area, I literally grew up with it. I’ve seen graffiti sprayed onto empty walls and walls going blank once again. I’ve seen the metal barriers surrounding a construction site weekly layered with posters and leaflets for whatever someone felt the need to inform passersby of (concert, book release, private tutoring). I’ve seen the lifespan of a branch of La CD-Theque, from opening, to moving, and eventually closing. To experience Hamra is not to live in it, but merely to live with it and treat it not as a destination for shopping and eating, but as a place to learn (not necessarily in a school or university), make friends (not necessarily with people your own age), and draw inspiration (not necessarily from the same things that inspire everyone else). This festival was surly entertaining, but no amount of stands, concerts, jugglers, Capoeira dancers, or whatever could bring one close to truly grasping the essence of this dear street.

 Photographic Evidence!

Show Review: Zeid & The Wings Live @ Basement (August 27, 2010)

 For a while, I didn’t know what Zeid & The Wings was. Look at past instances where they have been mentioned here: I would list elements I saw before me, not really picking up on the soul of it all. Well, I finally picked up the broadcast.

 Over the past couple of years, Zeid Hamdan had been hopping from one dimension to another (from an Arabic trip-hop duo (SoapKills) to an indie-pop trio (The New Government)) and playing different roles (from manning a plethora of machines and programs to wielding a humble guitar). Left and right the needle on the scale was fluctuating, until finally it settled, and equilibrium had been reached: this was when Zeid & The Wings was born. Zeid & The Wings are not a standard rock band, nor are they a band responsible for reproducing Hamdan’s self-produced studio material live. It is a fusion of his digital production with live accompaniment. This was the case when he worked with Hiba and RGB, but this isn’t anything like just playing guitar to a whole track, it’s more elaborate.

 Hamdan played the first prerecorded track on his laptop, consisting of drums, bass, and some ambient effects. The tracks for tonight were not the same as the studio versions. Different drumbeats could be heard, new percussion was added, among other alterations, and the female vocal section, Yasmeen Ayyashi, Gihan El Hage, and Sara Barraj joined in adding live percussion. The main role of the girls is of course to add backing vocals, and they do it well. You can tell they weren’t assembled for their ability as solo vocalists, but for their ability at performing together as a single entity in harmony with Hamdan himself… because that was the absolute result.

 Marc Codsi on guitar, Rita Okais on retro keyboards, and Bachir Saade on nay were each filling in the gaps in their own ways.

 Now some random comments:

-“Hkini” featured Hamdan playing some mouth harp in the intro. I too play a mouth harp. That was cool to see. Mouth harps are cool.

-It was nice to hear some new stuff, for example the song “Inspiration”, written by Hamdan out of a lack of… inspiration.

-“Rocket” sounded like happy-Portishead (at least to me it did).

-Whenever Hamdan performs, no matter who he joins, I think about how I don’t know anyone here but him who plays ska and dub… every single time, since the first time I saw him play almost a year ago.

 And they gave away a nice 4-track EP. By the way, lately if you want a band’s CD, you have to attend the release of it or a live gig, because there are seriously no more good record stores left.

 That was it overall: Good playing, good vocals, good arrangements, good band, and good show! Put this on the record: The best I have seen them yet!

 Which is precisely why it was too bad I had to leave in the middle of it…

Also, this was my first time in The Basement, and I feel it necessary to say: it has couches and a single long-ass table in the middle of the room with seats like some chillout coffee lounge, but it’s actually a nightclub with dance music and no dancefloor… oh well.

Show Review: The Revolution of Ants Live @ Dany’s (July 18, 2010)

The collective known as “The Revolution of Ants” is a nice concept. From what I’ve seen, there is no stable lineup and semi-structured songs. Vahan Papazian plays sitar backed by a revolving cast of percussionists, an occasional vocalist, and whoever else happens to play an instrument. They were performing at Dany’s in Hamra, which I had never been to previously.

 It started an hour later than it was supposed to, but for some reason I didn’t give a damn. Upon entering Dany’s, I was surprised to see that it was quite small and lacking a space dedicated for performances. Then the guy said it’s downstairs. I was reminded of EM Chill, with its little narrow ground floor room, in contrast to its spacious basement. Well, the downstairs room was even fuckin’ smaller. Seriously, it looked like a room you rent for a children’s birthday party… one with a bar and ashtrays.

 Thus, as time passed, the show eventually began, as they always do.

 It was Papazian on sitar, with two percussionists. As I’ve said before, the group doesn’t have structured songs, but they aren’t 100% impromptu jams, for the sitar always plays the same tune, and the percussions are improvised around that. So I was expecting to hear something I recognize. The “jam” that has been played first in previous performances I have witnessed was again played first. I can’t really use the word “setlist” properly with this type of music, but come on! At least switch the pieces around a bit.

  So “jam #1” (which I could hum the main tune to you if I wasn’t limited to the text I’m typing, for I have memorized it at this point) was done. Onwards!

 By the way, right in front of the stage, I mean, slightly elevated platform, there was a plank of wood attached to some metal bars horizontally… a table, with three seats. That thing was purposefully designed to block the view… Dammit Dany’s…

 Second piece involved some synth, in the form of a jazzy drumloop and synth-bassline. Once again, sitar, percussions, etc… But the sitar was extremely similar to the previous piece. Let’s expand on this for a minute:

On the subject of similarity of sitar tunes in each piece, fellow audience member Karim (I hope you read this somehow) stated that we’re used to hearing guitar so much, we recognize the differences between styles and scales almost immediately. With sitar, the only time we are exposed to it is in this “exotic” context. So we, who are not avid Indian music listeners, find it hard to differentiate between one exotic melody and another, while an Indian musician perhaps may discriminate between the most seemingly identical tunes, in terms of scale and tuning and whatnot.

At one point the percussionists had a solo, which was unnecessarily long, but I guess that word does not exist in the dictionary of a jam ensemble. But other than the duration, they were not really “soloing”, they just kept the beat that they had going, minus everything else. Preferrably they should alter the beat, speed it up, slow it down, anything to signify independence from what was previously being played. But no, just an extension…

 Then it got interesting. A nay player joined the lineup. To warm us up, just a nay and percussion piece with an Armenian-Israeli thing going on. I think that was when a bass player joined, and Papazian traded in the exotic sitar for a plain ol’ guitar. What followed was a rather upbeat yet apocalyptic piece, with the bass being borderline-funky, the percussion and nay energetic, and the guitar (played with a slide and effects applied) screeched and squealed. That was a good piece of music.

 At this point my eyes started watering from the cloud of death that had slowly been exhaled into the room. Someone must have thought I was moved by the music, but those tears were not tears of joy, oh no no no…

 Then it was guitar and bass playing blues to the backdrop of tribal percussions and occasional nay interjections.

 And the performance concluded with a piece for sitar, bass, nay, synth, and percussions.

 So let me just say what I had already thought of the group, even before this particular performance. I love the diversity in instrumentation and experimentalism. If they were to compose something, with a specific length, and maybe lyrics, I’d love it. But this diversity is defeated when you play the same “jams” in the same order every time. And I guess this is just a “me” thing now, but I am not a huge fan of “ensembles”; Musicians that just play together randomly without purpose… forever and ever. I am more into structure. I think jamming is to express oneself and have fun, and the result of a jam session should be a structured song. You jam, afterwards you say “Hey, that spontaneously played piece we came up with just now was pretty cool! It truly inspired me! Let’s write some lyrics and lay them over it!” What is the point of a perpetual jam then? Or a jam where you always play the same thing? I think they have reached this “point of inspiration”, but refuse to go through with organizing a composition or writing lyrics. I am just a listener and I’ve reached the “point of inspiration” in their place! Hell, it’s not even my music, but I know that what they have already come up with is enough to compose at least two songs! If they recorded each instrument separately and sent me the files, I bet I could loop here and overdub there, and the result would be a pretty neat Indo-electro instrumental that would just need some vocals.

 I know you can’t always have things your way, but I’m just declaring what I’d prefer they do. What they already do is quite interesting and I’d hate for this to go to waste.

Show Review: Mashrou3 Leila @ Byblos International Festival (July 9th, 2010)

Source: Beirut Nightlife

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.

 Photos