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: 7keeleh Vol.6 @ EM Chill (June 25th, 2010)

Designed by Karma Hmady

“7keeleh” is a series of performance nights hosted by Fareeq el Atrash. The first one was around late 2009, and was held in the Amadeus Pub of the Mozart Hotel in Hamra. I only briefly passed by for the first one, but I can accurately tell you from the second one, that it was characterized by an open-mic-style setup, people putting their names on a list ahead of time, you know. But after those two, it was moved to EM Chill (formerly Electro Mecanique) in Ashrafieh due to the better conditions and performance area.

 Start was delayed one hour due to sound-check. I don’t honestly know, but I like to pretend someone said “Hey, let’s be safe and do the sound-check at 6:00 PM, just in case it takes like three hours, who knows, right?”, and then someone else replies “Fuck you”.

 So it started an hour later than advertised, which isn’t that bad if you keep in mind that the reason for the delay was to ensure a decent sound, you know, the result of most sound-checks.

 So let’s say it started 10:15-ish. I think the time has come to explain this time-obsession of mine. I think most of you have always been like “Fuck you dude, the night is young, party on!” Well, some have the circumstances that fit that attitude, but some of us who have to attend university the next day, go to our jobs, or just abide by a curfew, find comfort and security in a pre-determined schedule. That’s why tardiness is such a big deal. One finds the pre-determined plan of seeing a certain percentage of a performance unrealizable, so stays for half of it, for example. It’s worse if you were charged for it too. Being late in general is basically an insult to someone’s trust, as in, I trusted you to do this action at that time, but then you did not, thus betraying my trust in you. Though in some cases, there really are legitimate reasons for being late, and I know this. Sorry for the ethics lesson, but what’s another lesson if no one learns?

 First difference from the old “7keeleh”s of Amadeus was the space. In Amadeus, small area, people standing, some sat on chairs, some on the floor, not an elevated stage. EM Chill, big basement-like room, limited seating, but open spaces, encouraging “improvised seating”, elevated stage. But those damn spiral stairs. I mean, when did it seem like a good idea to have a bunch of tipsy people resort to an already tricky when sober method of getting from one floor to another? Thank God only one chick slipped on them. I bet it happens at least once every night…

 Second is pretty much the whole concept. It used to be an open-mic, but now it’s just a concert basically… 7keeleh is no longer “an open mic session at its best for hip hop, poetry, spoken word and music”. Nobody randomly asked to perform. It was all pre-planned, with a specific line-up and all. I’m not complaining, in fact I like it when I go and know who’s playing, but someone should change their blurb I guess.

 So first up were Ashraf Chouli on oud, Tarek Bashasha on clarinet, and a third percussionist whom I forgot his name. They were to play an intro piece, and I’m pretty sure it was an on-the-spot jam. They didn’t start immediately though, because they were… sound-checking? What the fuck? I thought there already was a sound-check, one that delayed the whole thing an hour? Well eventually, they had a nice oriental-jazz thing going, sort of Ziad Rahbani-esque, and it even got a bit experimental near the end. But, it was unnecessarily long. We would have still gotten the point even if it weren’t extended as it was.

 Next were Vahan and The Revolution of the Ants, our friendly local Indo-fusion ensemble. They consisted of Vahan Papazian, on electric-sitar, Aram Papazian (no relation to Vahan) and a second percussionist I was not familiar with on Indian percussions, the percussionist from the previous act on oriental percussion, and a female vocalist whose identity I am not certain of. Again, there was a mini-sound check. I can see a paradox coming up… So they played a lengthy jam, to a familiar sitar-melody from when I had seen them at Walimat Warde’ long ago. Is it really a jam if there’s a pre-determined riff played every single time? The percussion wasn’t the same though, and there were even percussion solos. A second piece featured the vocalist. Again, I’ve heard this before, but I guess I’ve figured out what the band is about: each “jam” is a pre-determined sitar riff upon which all other elements are improvised along with. So “jam #1” is the song with “that sitar melody”, but never “those percussions”. It’s an interesting concept I must say. Anyway, as the sitar tune played, the vocalist would recite phrases in Arabic, so everything went tarab-y for a while, then the music caught up with her when the percussions went all doumdoum-chika-doumdoum-chika-doum-chika and the sitar followed that. Then like a car chase through genres, she began harmonizing in distinctly un-tarab-like fashion, sort of Indo-African. It was neat, but also unnecessarily long. I know it’s a jam, and the music has a life of its own and everything, but things can only engage you for so-long.

 Next were the newcomers, Shaba; Shaden Fakih on vocals, Bane Fakih on acoustic guitar, Rola Najjar on electric-guitar, Aya Attar on keyboard, and Chloe’ Asmar on violin. Also, a mini-sound-check. I.. I don’t even know anymore… what the fuck was going on in the one hour delay? Shouldn’t this stuff already have been determined earlier? And if it wasn’t, then what was the point of the delay? Life’s mysteries… So now, the first band with actual structured pre-composed songs, as opposed to jams, began their performance. Four songs total were played, nice little acoustic-classical-folk-rock pieces. The electric guitar, which was to provide rhythm and emulate bass, was inaudible, as well as the violin, which was later fixed however. But as long as you could hear the acoustic guitar, that was fine, because honestly, it is the backbone of every single song, with the other instruments being filler. I mean, why doesn’t the keyboard play the main riff? Or the violin? Or the electric guitar? I’m not suggesting excluding the acoustic guitar entirely, but it’s just that every other instrument is being belittled and made a bit redundant.

 The DJing in between acts wasn’t really doing its job either. Nobody cared, but “Sawton La Youqhar” by I-Voice was played like… 3 times; Just sayin’…

 Following them were The Incompetents, with an obligatory mini-sound-check. That night they consisted of Serge Yared, Fadi Tabbal, and Abed Kobeissy. One of the beautiful things about The Incompetents is that you don’t need to/can’t assign each member a role. They are just musicians, and if it has notes, they’ll play it on anything. Both Tabbal and Kobeissy are multi-instrumentalists, and Yared will use any knick-knack he can procure from a dollar store. Tabbal stuck mainly to electric guitar for all the songs, Kobeissy provided bass via a keyboard synthesizer, which was pretty neat because it had all kinds of tricks like pitch-shifting, later played buzuk, though fairly inaudible, and what appeared to be a mini-flute, also hard to make out, and some drums (as in, snare and crash cymbals), and Yared did vocals, some drums (snare and floor-tom), as well as the infamous kazoo and jingle-bells, kazoo struggling to drown out the noise though. The other beautiful thing about The Incompetents is their constant redefinition of their set-list through rearrangement. Rearrangement isn’t that drastic a process. It’s just mixing and matching elements, shuffling sounds. But a simple translation of a tune from one instrument to another can give the song a whole new life. Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business” has never been the same again since they covered it. And there was even some audience participation, when Yared challenged an innocent concertgoer to a duel, a duel made in hell; kazoo vs mini-vuvuzela (not the giant one, so as to be on a level-playing field). That’s why they were the best of the night.

 By then it was already 12:00AM, and I had only planned to stay for so-long. So I vamoosed… To put things into perspective, these were just the first four acts, and there were more than five left to go. I’m sure everyone who stayed had a blast though… Technically I’m not, but I like to think they did, because they’re not as picky as I.

 Let me tell you what went wrong exactly. Aside from the initial sound-check delay, the event page predicted that between each act, there would be 15 minutes of space. Now I’m not saying that schedules are accurate all the time, but here, an end-time was predicted, without taking into account the time that each act would take to set-up their instruments, or the unprecedented mini-sound-checks, or even that an act might just play for more than 15 minutes, particularly the free-flowing jam acts, like Vahan’s group. Also, the sound-check delay proved useless, as the sound wasn’t perfect and instruments apparently still had to be mixed properly. Miscalculated schedule + unfavorable odds = I’m not staying here till 4:00 AM… *staggers up spiral staircase*.

Photographs

Go for Gaza. Stay for the Music!

Hello. It would be very cool and very charitable if you went to this thingy here.

BUT WHY SHOULD I INVEST TWENTY OF MY HARD-EARNED DOLLARS ON SOME CONCERT?

Well, as you might know, Israel has been picking on us all, and being douchebags in general, for quite some time now.  One of their latest delightful atrocities was attacking a harmless flotilla that belonged to the Free Gaza Movement, carrying aid supplies to Gaza… in international waters. The world was outraged, well a big majority of the world at least. So we Lebanese being the benevolent people we are decided to support Gaza. And support we shall, because all proceeds will go to the Free Gaza Movement.

I TOO WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT GAZA, BUT WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

Well…

-Fareeq el Atrash: The best funk-rock-rap band in Beirut, who have literally never sucked… I swear.

Lazzy Lung: In a sea of bands trying to emulate that “Western” sound, they are by far the best darn ones yet. Catchy as hell too.

-Pop Will Save Us: Frankly, I have nothing to say to convince you why you should see PWSU, because I have neither seen them live myself nor purchased (or downloaded) their album. What’s certain is, they play poppy-dance-type stuff, and they come with the whole  package, so I guess it wouldn’t kill you to check them out, or just get a drink or something, I dunno…

-La Gale:  Swiss-Lebanese  female rapper who raps in French, thus, I cannot understand much of what she says, so you’re on your own for this one.

-Lumi: Turns out they’re alive. Well they’re notorious for their scarce live-appearances, but that shouldn’t be your motivation to see them. Blending rock with electronica isn’t that big an innovation these days, but luckily, they did it right. It’s not trip-hoppy like SoapKills though, it leans more towards, well, “synth-rock”.

Zeid & The Wings: One of the bigger groups around, Zeid Hamdan’s latest project features the traditional staples of rock music, as well as some things you might have not seen before, like some nay, and the occasional Arabic lyrics. It’s not really like The New Government, or SoapKills, it’s just its own thing, that’s all that can be said really.

-Rayess Bek: I think his band are still in town after performing on the 6th of June. So for those who missed them, now is your chance, they’re not here everyday. In fact, the 6th was their first time-ever here in Lebanon. Even Rayess Bek himself without the band was a rarity, until he came back in April and did some shows, so you’re in luck that you get to see his socio-political Franco-Arabic rhyming commentaries laid against live electro-acoustic-oriental-jazz beats, as opposed to pre-recorded ones. In case they’re not here though, you really shouldn’t complain either.

-Hiba el Mansouri: Well basically, SoapKills 2.0, which is awesome, and so is Hiba.

-The Incompetents: Recently, The Incompetents bridged the gap in their lineup, recruiting Marc Codsi as their drummer. Full-lineup or not, The Incompetents are a bit sparse with their performances, so seeing them is worth your while, for I have forever admired their goofy awesomeness…  

-RGB: He’s a decent rapper by himself, but you better hope he and Zeid perform their ska-rock-rap material. Where else can you hear a  psuedo-homage to Bob Marley through Arabic rap?

– Tania Saleh: Acoustic-folk-rock Arabic songs from one of the local veterans!

Miah: I swear I have no idea, but I’m guessing French folk-pop or something… I dunno, surprise yourselves!

In conclusion: Go.

Thank you very much.

Show Review: “Untitled Tracks” Book Launch

FI-NAL-LY! I’m back in the saddle! What can I say? Things had slowed down for everyone at the beginning of this year. Sure there has been activity on and off, and of course the still-getting-warmed-up Greedy Ears Sessions, but I’ve been busy with my own affairs and whenever I’m not, it happens that the event is going down too late into the night, for my schedule at least. But as luck would have it, along comes this perfect package of an event! The launching of local photographer Tanya Traboulsi’s photo-book “Untitled Tracks” with live music by some of the artists featured in the book itself, who would be Fareeq el Atrash, Youmna Saba, Scrambled Eggs, The Incompetents and a warm-up DJ set by DJ Lethal Skillz. The book features Traboulsi’s own photos of local musicians, along with text by several contributors among which is Ziad Nawfal, so you know this’ll be worth it. Why was it so convenient though? You don’t really need to know this at all, but I do like to add an autobiographical touch to these posts, so sue me. The starting time was 7:00 PM (though the live music portion didn’t come in until later), and the conclusion was set for 10:00 PM. Just to put things into perspective, the performances at The Greedy Ears Sessions START at 10:30 PM… Also, it was a book release, not a party per-se (fi sa2afe’ bil ossa).

 -Before the Show: The location was Gruen Eatery in the Gefinor center. Initially, there was some confusion concerning the exact location, but eventually I managed to locate it.

 One of the other allures of this particular shindig was that it was a “family reunion” of sorts. I attribute this aspect to Tanya. If she were to only photograph rappers, you’d find the place packed with MCs and b-boys, but no, with her photos she slices off a thick chunky piece of this cake we call Beirut’s alternative music scene, including many of the different layers that constitute it, icing, sprinkles, chocolate syrup… yes, the scene is certainly quite delectable, and that night everyone, both seasoned undergrounders and curious newbies, was about to get a taste of it. In non-culinary terms, Tanya’s photography spans a wide area of the scene from rock to electronic and it’s rare for the players of each specific genre to come together like this, but then again, it’s not everyday that a book on the music scene is released, let alone a photo-book.

 I kicked off the night by greeting familiar faces here and there. Some of these people I hadn’t seen in months… I eventually made my way to the back of the room where the photographer herself was seated at a table busily signing copies of the book to eager purchasers. Ziad Nawfal, seated besides her, suggested I browse the book first before I buy, so I did and I was quite pleased with it for a first glance. I coughed up the price of $30, which was fair taking into account that it’s a photo-book, not an issue of Samandal… (which costs around 5,000 L.L).

 The mainstream media made its presence evident. Here and there cameramen were snapping away, shooting footage.

 The next hour or so was spent mingling, greeting, and mingling… I got to meet DJ Lethal Skillz for the first time. He’s the only locally operating turntablist I know of. There’s a difference between a DJ and a turntablist; A DJ plays music on the turntables. A turntablist makes music with the turntables. I’ll try elaborating on this obsession someday, but for now: it is, when a sound’s pitch is in rapid arbitrary fluctuation, being silenced at irregular intervals; it is, beauty.

 -The Show: Skillz packed up and Fareeq el Atrash were the ones who’d get the ball rolling. The performance area was almost perfect. Just an open space, no pillars or anything like the last show I had been to (Last Crate Session at Walimat Warde’) Fun fact: Fareeq el Atrash are the band I have seen live the most times up till this day, so I’ve come to get accustomed to their shows. As “Atrash Tradition” decrees, they must start off every gig with a bit I’ve dubbed “Introduction Song” (this one). It’s a nice little opener that features FZ doing his solo beatboxing and comical commentary skits that range from a soccer match to a formula 1 race, not to mention Edd explaining the circumstances under which they are here tonight (they change the location mentioned in the song and who invited them to play accordingly). The people were digging it. Following that was a song I believe I’ve heard before but am not exactly sure of its title. You see, l’Fareeq have yet to release any sort of track list, and the tracks on their pre-album (available for download right here) are rarely played, so we’re all really in the dark concerning their set lists at this point, but hopefully that will be cleared up when they release their album (for real) this summer. The crowd was into it and responded well to Edd and Chyno’s cues to repeat after him and clap to the tempo. The next song was one I actually did recognize and knew the name of. It was “L’Njoum 3am Te2rab” and it was played very well as usual. I’ve seen all of these played before, so there wasn’t much that was new to me to take notice of, however, they did extend the “Rapper’s Delight” part of that song and I had never heard that before (the song features a breakdown sampling the bassline from “Rapper’s Delight” by rap crew The Sugarhill Gang, a nod to the old-school hip hop that has a great influence in the band’s sound). Legend has it/ FZ told me, that they once extended that breakdown for about 15 minutes when they were playing at The Basement (either their own gig that went down last November or opening for Termanology), and at that show there was their trombonist and other musicians who joined in. For me, it was another great Fareeq el Atrash performance, for people who had never seen them before, it was hopefully their gateway into the funky world of l’Fareeq…

 Some music was put on while the next act got ready. I was getting thirsty. There was literally nothing but beer…

 Youmna Saba was getting started, playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by Fadi Tabbal on electric guitar. Unfortunately, I was at the far end of the room. As I made my way back to the performance area I managed to pick up on Youmna’s Arabic lyrics, layered over a moody blues tune. Then as soon as it began, it was over. Supposedly they were two pieces, but I only managed to catch three-fourths of a song… oh well.

 More transitional music followed… Still thirsty.

 Following Youmna were Scrambled Eggs. I was surprised by the lack of drum kit. That along with the setup that was slowly taking form before me led me to the conclusion that they will be playing some free improvised music, probably in order to get people psyched about the performance they will be giving as part of the “Prelude to Irtijal” this coming Tuesday at Masrah el Madina with fellow improv all-stars Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Raed Yassin. Malek Rizkakallah sat before a hi-hat with a snare drum on the floor. Tony Elieh laid his electric bass on a seat in front of him, its strings slackened, two metal plates/ bowls placed under them on different parts of the neck, a stick in each hand. Charbel Haber held his guitar in the traditional fashion, on a seat within reach he had a screwdriver, steel wool, and somekind of screwdriver-like tool with ridges along it, like a screw, and of course his plethora of pedals, blinking and flashing around his feet. Haber rapidly strummed his guitar, making one extended high pitched “birrrrr”. That was the first sound. I can’t recall the exact order of each bit played, but Haber went on to play his guitar with that screwdriver-like utensil mentioned earlier producing a spine scraping squealing sound reminiscent of some wounded animal. Elieh tapped the strings, then the plates, then alternating between the two creating a percussive rythm. I was very amazed by his ability to hold a tempo for that long, that gave the sound a mechanical feel. Later on he would pick up the bass, removing the bowls, and play it by swiftly slapping it. Rizkallah tapped on his hi-hat, he banged on his snare with big fuzzy drumsticks, and he slid the top half of his hi-hat up and down the steel rod between it to make a creaking scrapoing sound. And gradually it all came to a halt. It was the second time I ever saw improvised music live, and personally I prefer seeing it live over listening to it prerecorded. I’d like to further discuss this issue in the future.

 Music was played while the final act set up… Should I stop nagging about the thirst and how secluded the location was from any supermarket, mini-market, or dekkaneh? I met Mazen Kerbaj for the first time during this break. He means a lot to me both musically and visually.

 Wrapping up the night were The Incompetents! Some people had seen enough and left with their books (including the camera crews), so the place became less dense. They were with their current “full” lineup, which now consists of Serge Yared, Fadi Tabbal, and Abed Kobeissy. To start off the set they played “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” with Abed Kobeissy on melodica, Fadi Tabbal on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Serge Yared on vocals. Following that was “Disposable Valentine”, infamously quite on the album, but energetic in live performances. Yared was on cowbell and vocals, Tabbal still on acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Kobeissy on electric guitar (slide guitar even!) After that came one of their more recent songs, a song which I refer to as “Footnotes”. Kobeissy borrowed Fareeq el Atrash bassist John Imad Nasr’s headstock-less bass guitar and set it to an effect making it sound like more of a retro synth, very quirky. Concluding the set was a cover of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” with Kobeissy now playing buzuk. Fun fact: The first time I heard this song was on the way to the venue in the cab that night. I kid you not. Overall, every single song I’d heard prior had something new added to it, which was good of course.

 -After the Show: The book had been more than a year in the making and it couldn’t have been released a moment too soon and under such convenient circumstances too. Also noteworthy is how it was one of the few events I have been to that actually ended on the agreed-upon time. I’ll be posting some brief thoughts on the book soon.

-Photos:

*Personal: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=402002&id=842365214&saved

 

Check out Tanya’s work here: http://www.tanyatraboulsi.com/

See Scrambled Eggs make this kind of noise again (with some extra friends too) here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=332661693033&ref=ts

Show Review: The Last Crate Session @ Walimat Wardeh (December 29, 2009)

Visual by Youmna Saba

It all started on August the 25th with Zeid Hamdan, bringing with him his latest collaborative partner, vocalist Hiba el Mansouri, and Arabic rapper RGB. It was the first concept of its kind in Beirut. It went on for about 4 months. It had a variety of artists spanning numerous genres from rock to classical to hip hop to free-improvisation. It had one single 12 watt amplifier that everyone, no exceptions, used for their performance, no matter what instrument, from guitar to laptop to microphone capturing the sound of a trumpet being blown into with a hookah hose, no matter what genre. Yes, it must be: The Crate Sessions.

 The Crate Sessions is the brainchild of Serge Yared, Incompetents frontman and DJ at the restaurant Walimat Wardeh. It is basically a more productive (not to mention culturally enriching and entertaining) way of passing the time until the restaurant is scheduled to be demolished and move to a new location. Quite simply, there is this amp, the Crate, a CA15. It has certain specifications (12 watts power, 2 inputs, etc…). So the catch is: Each week, a local artist will be invited to play a set, but he/she can only use the amp at hand, which as you may have deduced has its limitations (two inputs allow for a limited number of individuals for example). They can bring their own instruments though. I attended the first three, then came a long absence due to school (some I was really tearing myself up to see mind you), but I managed to make a comeback for the second-to-last one and of course, this one, the very last one.

 They had really gone all-out for this one. First of all, the lineup looked very promising. They had familiar faces making comebacks (Zeid Hamdan, Youmna Saba, The Incompetents, etc…), as well as newcomers to the Crate Sessions (Abdallah el Mashnouk & Rayya Badran, Fareeq el Atrash, White Trees, etc…). But wait, there’s a catch tonight too. No, they weren’t forced to abide by the usual rules of the Crate. It would be electric, though acoustic was still an option. The catch is: they have to play covers. Fadi Tabbal had brought instruments from his studio, Tunefork, and set up the sound system and everything. In conclusion, it would be a three to four hour non-stop ear-orgy… Well actually, there’s supposed to be a break, so it’s not exactly non-stop… wait no, there would be DJ’ing by The Playmobiles (Basile Ghosn and Margot Hivernel). Shit, guess it was non-stop then… Oh and, all proceeds would go to “Oumnia”, an association that aims to provide children suffering from serious illnesses with psychological and medical care.

 -Before the Show: They said they would start at 7:30 sharp; They SO did not start 7:30 sharp. I paid the ticket price of 20,000 L.L which was quite reasonable, since you’d get to see more than 10 artists perform in one night, plus it’s for charity.

 Most of the artists from the first half were there already. I was glad to find Zeid Hamdan there, who had been abroad in Europe for a long time now, as well as the Fareeq el Atrash crew (sans FZ) who were one of the acts I was really looking forward to seeing, and of course Serge Yared, the man behind it all.

 I noticed something I wasn’t happy with. On Halloween, the restaurant played host to a big costume party, and one of the things that I didn’t like was the “performance-area”. It was this room where tables and chairs would usually be found, but those were cleared out and replaced with a drum set, amplifiers, and other musical equipment. But the thing is, the room is open and everything, but only through a door and a huge gaping window thing. This: http://photos-h.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs197.snc3/20435_371095310004_614085004_10181244_2442568_n.jpg. The point is, as I’ve personally experienced it on October 31st, you can either see what’s going on from the doorway, or the big opening. The pillar in the middle obstructs the perfect viewpoint, the literal middle, where you could switch from left to right by rotating your head. But I see they had nothing else they could do, since it’s the only sectioned off room in the place. If they did it where the previous performances took place, you’d have the crowd blocking entry to diners to that particular room that they used. But you have to keep in mind that the place wasn’t built with live music in mind, however, the new location will be. I came up with a practical solution later on, but it depended on that beam not serving any particular purpose apart from an aesthetic one. Since the place is going to be torn down in a couple of days, why not just start early… with that pillar as the first casualty. But if it wasn’t just a decorative pillar, let’s just say there would have been more than one casualty…

 There was a fairly large crowd. Not THAT large, but it was good nonetheless. Ziad Nawfal would be the announcer for this night. He introduced the head of Oumnia who gave a speech before the performances began. She basically talked about the organization and its goals. She finished off by thanking Walimat Wardeh, Ziad Nawfal, Serge Yared, and all the musicians involved.

 Now onwards to the performances…

 -The Show: Sima Itayim was to start. She had been featured before as part of the Crate Sessions and is now making her comeback. She covered “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” from the Disney movie “The Aristocats” as covered by the band Psapp (This would be the first appearance of a song from a Disney movie). Good that it wasn’t just the same old songs we’re used to hear covered. It was just her on acoustic guitar. The piece was quite jazzy and she performed it quite well though if I remember right it was here where the cracks in the sound setup began to appear. The noisy diners and crowd members didn’t help either. I was briefly one of them… (My apologies, Mr. Nawfal).

 Between each act, a couple of minutes of DJing while the artists got ready.

 Following her was Elyas, who first made his debut on the 96.2 FM “Modern Music Contest” CD and appeared as part of the Crate Sessions as well. He sings in French, and I’m not biased against the French language or anything, but it rarely does it for me. He was on acoustic guitar and was joined by Phillipe (I think) from Intensive Care on keyboard. They covered a French song (which didn’t surprise me) and there were some technical difficulties that didn’t help it appeal to me. Then he covered another French song on his own. I don’t know how much I have to keep saying that I’m not prejudiced against French, but I really don’t find pleasure in listening to it, because I have a mediocre grasp on it, yes, I openly admit it; Sue me, but do it in English please. In some cases, no matter what language the song is in, the music would make up for the unfamiliarity of the tongue. For example, I can’t tolerate Rayess Bek for a while when he raps in French. Now back to Elyas, his style isn’t really my cup of tea. It’s too… soft? I dunno.

 After that was a new act, the duo of Eva Madsen, which consisted of Basile Ghosn and Tad Catranis, joined by Vladimir Kurumilian and Serge Yared. Eva Madsen covered a song by the Violent Femmes. Basile was on vocals and Tad on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. They were quite confident, and though Basile didn’t have that spectacular a voice, it was good enough. Afterwards, they were joined by Vladimir and Serge, with Vladimir on keyboard and Serge providing vocals. I don’t know what they covered honestly, but I was glad to hear Serge take the mic for a while. He has the voice for it.

 Ramzi Hibri cancelled…

 I had heard cristobal’s music before and met him many times but never actually saw the man perform. Now I would get my chance. The people had gotten quite noisy again. Chyno of Fareeq el Atrash did his part by unleashing some epic “shush”s on the crowd, leading a “shush” revolution that was to an extent quite effective. Cristobal, not one to ignore such favors, showed his gratitude with a “shhhhukran”. He had some special guests too. He was on acoustic guitar and vocals, Sima made a comeback on backing vocals, Fareeq’s own Goo and Edd, Goo on guitar, and Edd making his musical debut playing keyboard (“playin’ da keys!”  *grins*).  John Imad Nasr joined in too on bass for this one if I remember right. They performed a cover I am not familiar with. The more obscure the better I say. Following that was another cover, this one without Sima. It was a slower more soulful acoustic rendition of Fareeq el Atrash’s “Shou Kamish?. Is it still a cover if the original artist partakes in it? Eh who cares, this is one fine collaboration right here, cheating or not.

 Following that, the new-to-me (and to others as well I believe), Abdallah el Machnouk and Rayya Badran. I had no prior expectations and was surprised with Abdallah’s instrument of choice: The underrated, underestimated, undersized… ukulele! They covered a song, with Abdallah on ukulele as previously mentioned, and Rayya providing vocals. She was quite good. I didn’t mention this for the previous artists, but it still applies to them: I’m not a big fan of covers, because I see no original input in them. However, when you cover something with an instrument that it was not originally meant for, or with any kind of twist or alteration, that is where the creativity is showcased. There were definitely some twists present in what had been presented. For their second cover, they covered The Incompetents’ own “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head”. Yared was quite pleased. They did pull it off very well. Bravo on your peculiar instrumentation, vocal delivery, and song choice you two.

 The space-visibility problem was still a factor by the way, and the sound wasn’t holding up too well.

 Next up were one of the acts I was particularly looking forward to seeing, Fareeq el Atrash. They have not appeared before for a Crate Session, so this was their Walimat debut. The lineup this night consisted of Edd and Chyno MC’ing, John Imad Nasr on bass and Goo on guitar. Their beatboxer, FZ, was abroad, so they recruited a drummer, right there on the spot. It just happened that Nadim M of Intensive Care was there for them to lay down some beats on the drums. I’ve learned this long ago, but it was demonstrated once again this night. Rappers are demanding. They thrive off crowd interaction. You don’t a rapper rapping at a café, you see a jazz band or something, because jazz you can just get lost in, but rap is different, rap requires intellectual commitment, an open mind, concentration, attention, etc… So Edd had to get the crowd fired up. He wanted them to cheer. Some cheered. He wanted them to cheer again. Some more cheered, the rest were chatting, eating, or doing nothing at all. Yalla, good enough. They started with “Beat It” I think (the first Micheal Jackson tribute of the night), but it was that song musically, but lyrically, Chyno took it in a completely different direction, substituting his own English raps in the place of the original lyrics. The bass riff was the same, and the impromptu drumming was effective. Following that was a more obscure reworked classic: “Brothers on the Slide” by Cymande. The bass riff was the same also kept intact and the drums were improvised, while the lyrics were altered, but I was familiar with them still. Before they started, Edd asked the crowd to shout “Walimat!” when he asks “Wen ittijehak?” (Where you going?). The lyrics in question were the lyrics of Fareeq’s own song “Lawen”. How do you cover in hip hop? You sample! They sampled… live. They’re as clever as their lyrics… There was an on/off response to that “Wen ittijehak?” thing. Sometimes people went along with it, other times, nada, zip, zilch. They concluded with their song “Bti2wa Ma3 L’Zikra”, which already samples Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”. Technical difficulties did not hesitate to announce their presence. Edd and Chyno had to swap mics every now and then.

 After them was Zeid Hamdan, who was joined by RGB, but not Hiba (who just got a big record deal from MTV (the local channel, not “Music Television”. If you’re gonna rip off another TV channel, at least steal the name of a less recognizable one…) He had a drum machine with him, and he programmed a drumbeat on-the-spot, grabbed the bass, and proceeded to cover a song by Portishead. I would like to announce that after that night, I became a big fan of Portishead, mostly because I love trip hop, and I hadn’t heard any in a while, so they kind of rekindled that flame, so yeah. The mic was capturing the sound all distorted which was kind of cool actually. Following that, Zeid altered the drumbeat on the drum machine and performed the second Micheal Jackson cover of the night: Billy Jean. Not a big MJ fan myself, but I was happy to see people still paying tribute to him, despite being dead for quite a long time now, his impact can still be felt. Same goes for the other artists, who I assume cover songs by artists that mean a lot to them or have greatly influenced them as musicians. Then, rapper RGB joined him. They performed RGB’s song “Awwast L’Sherif”. Well… it’s not exactly a cover, as Zeid always plays it with RGB, and I don’t think RGB performs it without Zeid, but it does reference Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, and translates it to Arabic. Does that count? Either way, nobody really cared whether or not they would be hearing covers that night or original music. Then another song with RGB: “Ma3na L’Rap”. You know, these are the only two songs they do together, and as I mentioned earlier, Zeid was abroad, so you can’t really expect something different on such short notice. The crowd was very dense now…

 A 20 minute break followed. I stayed a while then stepped out for 5 minutes.

 I came back, and succeeded in losing my spot. I was pretty tired too.

 Part 2 of the night started, with me occupying a slightly worse spot. But is there really a perfect spot? Not with this set-up.

 Youmna Saba covered two Arabic songs. Covering is nothing new to her, as she covered a Sabah song in her own Crate Session. She played acoustic guitar and derbakkeh and was joined by violinist Layale Chaker, who has appeared during a past Crate Session, and her frequent collaborator Fadi Tabbal. The variety in instruments was nice.

 Following her, Mazen and Maher Mardini, formerly of the band Roswell I believe. They covered a song by Porcupine Tree, Archive, and David Gilmour. I believe one was on acoustic guitar and the other on keyboard.

 Afterwards came Nadim M and Phillipe M from the band Intensive Care who operate in Canada. Phillipe was on keyboard, and Nadim, who played drums for Fareeq el Utrush earlier, was on electric guitar. They first covered a song I was not familiar with, but after that, another Disney movie song. That song was “Under The Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”. The people ate it up, and they were very energetic, Nadim was at least, as I couldn’t quite see Phillipe that well, you know, the whole location issue mentioned in the beginning.

 Now it was The Incompetents’ turn. Tonight they consisted of the main duo, Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal. Serge was handling the vocals and Fadi was playing acoustic guitar and harmonica at one point. They covered a song by the name of “After Hours”, but I am not familiar with its original performer. Following that, their recorded covers, Daniel Johnston’s “Bloody Rainbow” and Tom Waits’ “God’s Away On Business”. Both were presented very well, but I must address this now: Tom Waits’ original version sucks. The rescued that song, trust me on this one. As usual, very energetic. Though they only presented one completely original cover, out of the blue that is, I had never heard them play “Bloody Rainbow” live, and it was acoustic too, and though I had heard them play “God’s Away On Business” live prior to that, this time it was acoustic, so I guess it wasn’t all the same.

 They had performed earlier that Sunday at The Basement accompanying Scrambled Eggs and Canadian producer and musician Radwan Moumneh’s band, Jerusalem In My Heart. Radwan was there.

 Now this was the show-stealer. I know White Trees as the duo of PT and Carl Gerges, who play mellow acoustic melodies that comprise of acoustic guitar and minimalistic drums. They were supposed to play at the second-to-last Crate Session, but were not able to for one reason or another. Their soundcheck would obliterate almost all notions I had of them. Carl Gerges was drumming pretty energetically… P T was testing out his… trumpet… Ibrahim Badr was playing bass… They announced that they would be covering a Radiohead song. Carl drummed energetically indeed, PT played trumpet and delivered the lyrics, while Ibrahim added the bass. Magically, the sound was crystal clear. I don’t know where the song ended exactly, but at one point Ibrahim and Carl were left playing on their own while PT enthusiastically grabbed some drumsticks and lent Carl a helping hand by tapping along to the beat on a cymbal. He grabbed an electric guitar later on and played some very blues-rock-ish tunes. Ibrahim began fiddling with a touchpad-device (not a Mini KP) where he would scratch a vocal sample. They played that cover, but 3/4of what I just described was them randomly jamming. I COULD be all snarky now… but what the hell, it was utterly brilliant! After wrapping up, they distributed one of the two CDs they’ve released (you can find them at La CD-Theque). Unfortunately, they don’t know whether or not to record this sound of theirs. Guys, if you’re reading: DO. IT.

 Finally, concluding the evening, Scrambled Eggs. They played their Abba cover, “Lay All Your Love” from their CD “Dedicated to Foes Celebrating Friends”. Not really new… Then they admitted that they don’t know that many covers, so they just played “Russian Roulette” and had it segue into another song of theirs. They were good, but nothing was different from the last time I saw them. I mean, all the artists that I’ve seen at least once before had something fresh about their performances tonight. Could have been different guys…

 -After the Show: It was very late into the night, something I was not at all happy about. The lack of a solid schedule pisses me off, not just here, everywhere, every single time.

  It was indeed a crate, errr, great farewell to this beloved weekly tradition. They definitely delivered the quantity, and the quality was ok. Not spectacular, as some were just ok, others were great, and a few were awesome. My top three would be: 1- White Trees, 2- Fareeq el Atrash, and 3- I have no number three…

 Hopefully Walimat Wardeh’s new incarnation will play host to future live musical concepts and will be built with musical performances in mind.

 

For more information on the Crate Sessions: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=118734329783&ref=ts

Read Jackson Allers’ article on the Crate Sessions (featuring an interview with Yared): http://jacksonallers.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/bye-bye-crate-sessions-a-talk-with-serge-yared/

 

-Photos:

*Personal: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/album.php?aid=368356&id=842365214

 *by Tanya Traboulsi:

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Show Review: Halloween Horror Disco Extravaganza @ Walimat Wardeh

I know I know, I’m breaking the chronological order, but this show is still fresh and sizzling!

 This was a Halloween party where there would be DJing by DJ Basile and DJ Margot and live music by The Incompetents and Scrambled Eggs. There would also be some VJ’ing done during the musical performances by Rachel Tabet and Ramzi Hibri.

 -Before the Show: At first I took the event’s proclamation of “DISGUISE IS A MUST” lightheartedly, but I later discovered that indeed it is quite mandatory. So the Wednesday of that week I got to work on my costume. Since I knew the type of crowd that was supposed to be at this thing, I chose something a bit topical and witty. I would go as the cover of “More Songs from the Victorious City” by The Incompetents. Black cardboard and chalk were all I needed, then with some cutting and scotch taping, there you had it, a costume based on the piece Alfred Tarazi made for the cover and the concept that the band had created where you get to choose between 8 variable covers.

 A friend wanted to come, but she was tired. Early on, there was not that many people there. Sound-check was being conducted by The Incompetents. The costume got their approval. I greeted some people, one of whom was Abdallah Ko, the main character of the collaborative story “Beirut Police”, leader of a double life as a prophet, and member of the improvisational-noise group XEFM. The prophet, whose face was scratched and scarred, predicted that I should do a photo series with the costume. Read on and see if the prophecy was to be fulfilled… Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal of The Incompetents had gotten into costume by that point. Serge was an 80’s hair metal rockstar, and Fadi was something in that same domain.

 The place had started to fill up, though it was still spacious. I was greeted by a gypsy, a detective, and girl from the future; a friend of a friend, and her friends. Some time passed, and indeed, the prophet’s prediction came true, a skeleton lady wanted to have her picture taken in the costume. She would be the first of many who would do such a thing, including Alfrec Tarazi himself, designer of the original piece, who was dressed as a mish mash of oddities (stripey stockings, tissue paper strips, white face-paint…), or as he said, he was simply dressed as “someone who doesn’t know what he’s dressed as”.

 Haig Papazian, violinist of Mashrou3 Leila, was present. I asked about how recording for their album is going, and he said that it’s almost done, so you should all expect something to be finished for sure by December. I also discovered that those videos/ short movies you see on Youtube that use their song “Raksit Leila” use it without consulting the band. I always had this notion that the band is approached with a request to use any of their songs and they force the film makers to use “Raksit Leila” to endorse it. But that turned out to be incorrect. “Raksit Leila” is the only song available for purchase in stores, so that explains why nobody uses “Zotrine” for example, unless they get it from the band themselves. He too liked the costume. I was glad to see Sharif Sehnaoui was there as well.

 -The Show: After a while, The Incompetents came on, and they were Serge and Fadi accompanied by the pianist Vladimir Kurumilian. They started off with a new song that I like very much. It is a very interesting song, bitter in a way yet cheerful in another. Then some more songs which included “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” and “Monster Song”. Serge sang all of the songs, Fadi played guitar, and for some songs, such as “Monster Song”, Vlagimir would join in on keyboard. For some songs, Serge would at points play the guitar while singing, while Fadi would be playing the drums, and sometimes Serge would play the drums while singing. Each also utilized some pretty neat instruments like Serge playing kazoo and somekind of percussion instrument which consisted of a stick with bells on it, and Fadi playing a mini-xylophone. They were briefly joined by Youmna Saba on drums for the last two songs I think. The last was “Urinal Blues (Part 2)”. I liked this performance, because this time they had some more variety in their instruments than the first time I had seen them. For some reason, I did not notice the VJ’ing that much.

 Scrambled Eggs hadn’t shown up yet, but did eventually. At this point there was less room than before. Tony Elieh was a pirate. Malek Rizkallah was a rabbi. Charbel Haber was Charbel Haber. They got the ball rolling with “X to Be”, then “Building A Nest” I think, which I have only heard performed acoustic by Charbel on Ziad Nawfal’s “Ruptured Sessions” CD, so that was nice, hearing it with drums and bass, all electrified like that. Then they played “Russian Roulette”, a crowd favorite and one of their most well-known. A song whose name I am not really familiar with followed, and the performance was wrapped up with “Girls On Fire”, as requested by a girl in the crowd. They were very good and very energetic, but too loud. It was the first time I saw them so I didn’t really know what to expect, how to prepare myself, but it did start getting painful at a certain point, physically painful. It was quite a contrast to The Incompetents’ mellow acoustic guitar-driven sound, but in the end, very raw and gritty. The VJ’ing this time was more noticeable to me. It included such visuals as women doing aerobics and scenes from horror movies, suiting the Halloween occasion.

 -After the Show: The performances did not disappoint, although they were conducted in this room that was cleared of the tables and chairs that would usually be there for the performance that was not fully open, but had a doorway, and a big opening in the wall, kinda like a huge window without glass. Thing is, for The Incompetents, Serge would sing in the doorway, and Fadi would stand behind him, somewhere in the rest of the room, with the drumset being in the back, and the keyboard in a corner, both easily visible from the big opening. This made keeping your focus on all musicians, or perhaps photographing them all in one shot, as it applied in my case, a bit difficult difficult. Same goes for Scrambled Eggs, except it was Tony who was out of view. But still, you have to take into consideration that Walimat Wardeh is more of a restaurant in the end than a place for musical performances and you can’t expect it to be perfectly suited for them, though don’t ask me under what conditions Ziad Sahhab and his band Shehdine Ya Baladna perform there every Thursday.

 By the end of the Scrambled Eggs performance, there was barely enough room left to move. The place was literally packed. I managed to squeeze out of there, bid farewell to whomever I could find in that sea of disguises, and be on my way…

-Photos:

*Personal:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=340688&id=842365214&saved

-Videos:

*Personal:

I have a video of The Incompetents playing “Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” which I will edit it whenever I can upload it.

Album Review: The Incompetents – “More Songs from The Victorious City”

For my first album review, I will review the Incompetents’ debut album, “More Songs from The Victorious City”, because it’s the album that started it all with me (I had owned two other local albums before, but this one is what took things to the next level). Since this is the first review, I will briefly explain each category, but next time I’ll just be stating the category and getting straight to the content.

You know what they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but they never said anything about albums! I do pay attention to the album artwork (both exterior and interior) and logos and other visuals, because I am an artist myself and hopefully a graphic designer-to-be. This segment is directed towards the musicians themselves and the graphic designers that were hired by them.

-The Look: “More Songs” does not have a cover really. Where there should be a cover, there is a gaping “mouth”, the mouth of Roro the Monster, a creation of Alfred Tarazi, and the band’s mascot. At the bottom are teeth, at the top, drippings. Above is the band name, and below is the album title and between that, you can see through the mouth into the interior left-hand sleeve which contains 8 square cards (they appear to be square).

There is one card for each song. This is definitely something I had never seen before, in Lebanon or anywhere else even. Each card has an image on one side and on the other side, lyrics and credits. A brief review of each card:

1-“The Damned Don’t Cry” Cover by Youmna Habbouche: I like this piece. It fuses between nature and the city (i.e. antennas) and has a “rough” feel. It also plays on the “cry” theme by featuring eyes and a single teardrop.

2-“Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head” Cover by Ahmad Gharbieh: This piece is somewhat simple… too simple for me. A hand drawn rat says the lyrics to another, scribblier rat, in front of a plain white background. But they’re not even that well drawn. I’m not a super-duper artist myself, but leaving out so much, it just doesn’t click with me. It could have been better.

3-“Bullets Gently Dancing Over My Head” Cover by Walid Mohanna: This piece here is great. You’d see a pink cat, but a regular head, that has glowing eyes (each a different color), and a rainbow hanging above its head. This creature, against a very classy “wallpaper”-ish background….splattered with blood. Very psychedelic, very surreal, I like!

4-“Disposable Valentine” Cover by Yasmine Yared: Does this look like it was made by a child? That’s because, it was! It was made by Serge Yared’s niece! Well, I can’t really judge this because a child is a child, drawing by raw instinct and emotion, not knowing what’s right or wrong, so I’ll just say it like it is: I see, a very rectangular cat (perhaps a cat-bull hybrid?), with nine throbbing hearts, and it is either floating in mid-air, or the ocean. Perhaps it is the overwhelming love that its nine hearts enable it to experience that cause this gravity-defying phenomena, or enable it to hold its breath for that long underwater (lots of oxygen pumping can be achieved with nine hearts). This girl has potential.

5-“Urinal Blues (Part 1)” Cover by Alfred Tarazi: This is a powerful piece. We have here, 6 beasts (Roro the Monster) with wide-open mouths. They are a thing to fear indeed, but what deliver more power are the colors used, red, white, and black. Jack White has adopted these three colors for his duo, The White Stripes (whom I am a fervent fan of) claiming that they are the three most powerful colors there are. They certainly do strike me in a special way, and they really do add something to the effect.

6-“Prelude to an Abyss” Cover by Josette Khalil: This is an incomplete cover. Serge Yared and Fadi Tabbal are missing their bodies! They are up in the sky amongst the clouds… bodiless! Full cover can be found here: www.theincompetents.com. It’s nice, not mind-blowing, but also not atrocious. The text on the back is cool though!

7-“Urinal Blues” (Part 2) Cover by Rafik Majzoub: I really don’t know what to make of this. There is a bottle, in a crown, with a penis, urinating, and a passed out king, with a duck behind his head? All of this on top of some sort of official typed document, with scratches and circles over and around some words. Seriously, I neither find it magnificent, nor grotesque. I find some things I like in it, and some things that I just can’t tolerate. I am neutral.

8-“Monster Song” Cover by Elie Dagher: To start off, I like the style. There is a nude man with a fig leaf covering his genitals, and it appears that his hands are chained together. A nude elephant-lady with a her bloody trunk between her legs being sniffed by a rat, stands alongside a woman, or man with breasts wearing nothing but a cat mask of some sort, a bell around his/her neck, and a white thong with red hearts on it, behind him/her stands a bewildered chicken. Both these humanoids are standing in front of an oversized bottle of pills that reads “The Pills”. Up in the sky, a man hangs from a noose that seems to be coming out of nowhere and is about to shoot himself in the head. His shirt says “Misunderstood” in a lateral format though. In the background, several people, two men smoking, one lady just staring, one man standing near a table, one lady with her back to the viewer. I like how there’s more than one thing going on at the same time. It’s all very surreal and symbolic, with hints towards sex, drugs, and suicide. But the song lyrics are not written down on this!

Now for the inside, to the left we have Roro superimposed over a map of Beirut, all of this in the mouth of yet another larger Roro. To the right we have a map of Beirut in red on top of which are the album credits and notes (which I found quite charming and funny). They say “And now taht you have purchased this CD, you can be sure that your life is just about to change drastically…”. Indeed it did. How drastic a change? All the topics in this blog I would never have dicovered if not for thic CD. It really pushed me in the right direction.

The CD itself is a variation on Roro, this one having a more circular form.

The back cover is, well, Roro! (as if he hasn’t appeared enough already!) He hovers over the map of Beirut, which is speckled with colored stars, and track names… 

Pssst! Go back inside, because there’s some… hidden artwork! Yes, that’s right, artwork that is not immediately visible unless you remove some things (no, you’re not tearing off bits of the case!). First of all, remove the cards and the CD. Look through the front, you will find Roro in red, in front of a black-star-covered map of Beirut. These are basically the three elements that make up the interior artwork (not the cards). Then, look inside, in the left and right sleeves and you will find two pieces of artwork by Alfred Tarazi (the one in the left is upside down and barely visible due to the hole that is Roro’s mouth) (you can find those images here: www.theincompetents.com). I like! BUT, not really matching the spirit of the album I say. Good move not using them.

Sorry that took so long, but albums don’t usually have as much artwork as this one does! It will be shorter in the future, but that really depends on how many pieces of artwork the release features.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for, the music. I wanted to do a song-by-song review (like I once did for this album), but instead I’ve decided on just giving an overall reaction and a couple of comments on each song.

-The Sound: I really liked this record. At first listening to it was “difficult”. I wasn’t repulsed by it, but the thing is, I didn’t immediately think “this is fantastic!” after listening to it. I had to let it grow on me for a while. It has a very fun sound, very expressive even when the song isn’t necessarily joyful. I liked the overall atmosphere of “this is who we are, like it or not”, and the warmth and simplicity (humbleness) of the songs. It has a very acoustic guitar-heavy sound, though I love the variety in instruments that spans everything from jaw harp to duduk. The synthesized pieces and effects showcase Fadi Tabbal’s mastery of audio technology. I enjoy the little sprinkles of humor here and there.

-“The Damned Don’t Cry”: It’s nice. I like the jaw harp, the spoken word segment by Ziad Nawfal, and the background “oohs”. But, it’s a bit too long.

-“Bullets Gently Flying Over My Head”: I love the slide guitar here, it’s relaxing and reminds me of floating or hovering. Unlike “The Damned Don’t Cry”, I wish it were longer!

– “Bullets Gently Dancing Over My Head”: I think the technique that was used on this one (vocal over-dubbing to form an acapella-beatbox tune) was a clever concept.

-“Disposable Valentine”: At first I was not too impressed by this one, but some information came to my attention and I saw it in a new light. I can appreciate the “I give up” feeling. This one is more of a “feel” song than a “groove” song; You’re supposed to be affected by its lyrics more than you are supposed to be affected by its melody.

-“Urinal Blues (Part 1)”: I liked the whimsical and jazzy style.

-“Prelude to An Abyss”: The mix of acoustic and electric guitar is a switch from the dominant acoustic guitar sound.

-“Urinal Blues (Part 2)”: The percussion is nice, and the kazoo adds character.

-“Monster Song”: This is an epic! It consists of 5 portions: “The Deal”, “The Euphoria”, “The Downfall”, “The Guilt” and “The Redemption”. I like the “industrial” feeling of “The Deal”. “The Euphoria” is joyous and simple and psychedelic in a sense. Now for “The Downfasll”, I adore it! It packs a lot of energy, every single element of it! “The Guilt” is two pieces intermingled with one another. One is an ominous organ-driven piece which is nice, and the other is an acoustic guitar driven piece, which I think is too similar to “The Euphoria”. Finally comes, “The Redemption”. This is a very spiritual and heart warming track. There are the echoes, the choir (The Sunken Ship Choir), and the general “uplifting” feeling. To sum it up, this track gets my approval.

Well, that it’s for the first album review. The future ones will hopefully be shorter.

Check out my analysis of The Incompetents here: https://feelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/artist-analysis-the-incompetents/