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Archive for the ‘Concert Reviews’ Category

As one third of Sun City Girls, Alan Bishop is one of the towering figures of the American musical underground of the last 30 years, and his musical output knows very few boundaries, whether in his solo guise as Alvarius B., or through the global releases of the Sublime Frequencies label, which he’s operated since 2003. Sam Shalabi is a key musician in Montreal’s experimental scene, with Egyptian roots and a decisively warped approach to music-making. He is best known as a founding member of the Shalabi Effect quartet, and appears regularly in various free improv and avant-rock ensembles. Shalabi recently founded Land Of Kush, an intriguing orchestra inspired by the Egyptian big-bands of the 60’s and 70’s, which has released two records to date.

Sam Shalabi and Alan Bishop are old friends, but their delirious piece for Plot for a Biennial, the music section of Sharjah’s 10th Biennial, saw them collaborating for the first time. Prior to this evening’s performance, the two musicians had spent several weeks in Sharjah in order to record ambient soundscapes and impregnate themselves with the mood of the city. The resulting performance integrated pre-recorded sound fragments, live playing (Shalabi on electric guitar and oud, Bishop on amplified acoustic guitar), and Bishop’s inevitable and riotous ranting and raving.

Bishop spent the first few minutes of the set walking among the seated audience, hiding his face behind a scarf and sporting a colorful umbrella, while Shalabi triggered the electronic soundscapes and improvised on guitar. Bishop eventually climbed on stage, at which point proceedings took on a more dramatic turn — in the Shakespearean sense of the word. Standing behind a cluttered table, he relied on various objects (a torchlight, a portable radio, menus for local restaurants, artist catalogues, to name but these) to deliver a captivating spoken-word “routine”, adeptly mixing deadpan humor, vaudeville, and hilarious assessments of the Sharjah milieu. T-shirts decorated with the sentence “E = Tahrir Square” were blasted towards the audience; dog yelps and various animal sounds were emitted; and Stevie Wonder, playing on the same night in neighboring Abu Dhabi, was saluted sarcastically. The two men ended their hour-long performance with a magnificent improvised duet of oud and acoustic guitar.

[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]

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One would not expect a performance consisting of live drawing and guitar soloing to be so physical. Sharif Sehnaoui is bent over his acoustic guitar, placed horizontally on his knees, his body contorting at times, erect at others, eyes closed in extreme concentration, while he strikes, pounds and hammers the instrument with mallets and sticks. Mazen Kerbaj, on the other hand (or side, in this instance), is surrounded by a panoply of paint tubes, bottles of suspicious-looking liquids, saucers, brushes, window wipers, and other less identifiable apparatus. One wonders how he is able to pass these objects through airport customs, given the state of high vigilance enforced in these charmless places nowadays. At the end of the performance, he will inevitably be covered head to toe with blotches of paint, ink and solvent.

Wormholes is an ongoing audio-visual project by Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif Sehnaoui, two Lebanese free improvising musicians who have been working and playing together since the late 1990’s. In 2008, Kerbaj devised an ingenious set-up which allows him to draw in a live setting, using a luminous glass panel coated with acetate, an overhead projector, and a reversed camera. While he draws miscellaneous shapes and forms, sometimes precise, oftentimes blurred, and augments them with plastic add-ons and random effects (such as blowing on the panel with a pipe), Sehnaoui operates his guitar percussively, with lines that are heavy and forceful in places, and sparse and muted in others. Although the two men start the piece in unison, not much correspondence occurs at later stages of the performance, between the music and the drawing. Points of interference are accidental, and much is left to the audience’s imagination.

Prior to taking the stage at Sharjah Biennial’s March Meeting, on March 14, 2011, Sehnaoui humorously recalled an instance of ‘Wormholes’ at a performance festival in Belgium. At the end of the set, Spanish body artist Esther Ferrer walked up to the guitarist and congratulated him, remarking that the divergence between his playing and Kerbaj’s drawing was in fact one the most successful elements of the piece. The March Meeting’s performance was a success as well, with the two musicians in fine form, finding new points of both convergence and divergence, and leading their audience on a haunting, melancholic voyage.

[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]

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I stumbled on an archive of old photographs (well, not that old, as they are all digital) while going through my PC desktop at home. Local bands and musicians, foreign musicians playing in Lebanon, etc. Some interesting, most of them serving archival purposes, more than anything else.  I will be posting a selection of those photographs in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here are some that my friend Salim took during Jeff Martin‘s concert at The Basement, last August. Jeff Martin used to sing with Canadian rockers The Tea Party, sometime during the 1990’s. Quite successfully, I might add; I have fond (listening) memories of a particular album entitled ‘The Edges of Twilight’…

A bit of a surprise, then, that a large part of Martin’s repertoire that night in Beirut consisted of covers, hovering over a large palette of the musical board: Massive Attack, Dead Can Dance, Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Keane (!), and of course Daniel Lanois…

[Photographs by Salim Hbeiliny]

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©Ghadi Smat/Grand-ecart.com

©Ghadi Smat/Grand-ecart.com

I have mixed feelings about this night. First of all, there is the slightly egocentric issue of having to mix the entire first part of the evening hidden behind a large, white drape, situated behind the band. While it made sense for Jose to play in front of a drape, it made much less sense for me to be covered by such a sundry item BEFORE the concert. Most of my friends who were there went, hey, was that you playing that night? We did not see you. Indeed.

But then, these (feelings of visual bereavement) went away when Jose Gonzalez and his two-piece band took the stage. Or rather, when he did, as he played solo at first. He strolled down shyly from the infamous VIP area at the Basement, sat on one of the three wooden chairs disposed for him, and played a couple of songs, accompanied by guitar and occasional guitar-tapping percussion. His voice was, is, well, sublime. Yes, just like the records. After a couple of songs taken from the ‘In our nature’ and ‘Veneer’ albums, he was joined onstage by a Viking-looking percussionist, and another female musician, who played a variety of miniature instruments. And alternately, hand-clapped.

©Rajwat/Grand-ecart.com

©Rajwat/Grand-ecart.com

Their two voices (his and hers) soared in unison (yes, it was that good) as they ripped through most of the songs on the two albums. The most notable feature of Jose’s set was his intense charisma, his way of delivering his songs as if he was playing them for the first time, right there and then, as well as his emotional guitar-playing and mastery of his instrument. Here were moments of acoustic loveliness, easily carried by the man’s incandescent voice.

I have rarely experienced such joy in an acoustic concert, such gentle beauty. Memories of Beth Gibbons playing with Rustin Man in Paris, of Martin Stephenson and Jim White alone on stage in London, sprang to mind. The crowd was subdued, which is something of an anomaly in the Basement, and allowed itself to be carried by the enchantment of Gonzalez’s small and charming ditties.

A shame, then, that the concert was so short. 40, maybe 50 minutes at most? A real shame. The beauty of the musicianship on display, not to mention the slightly high price of admission, kind of left me yearning for more. The concert ended with a beautiful re-interpretation of the Bronski Beat classic-of-sorts, “Smalltown boy”. Pretty, emotional stuff.

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Wire, Live in Paris (La Maroquinerie, 27/09/08)

This proved to be a historic week, on my own, personal, musical level. I had been a fan of British proto-punk Wire since acquiring a Best of their early years, ‘On Returning’, somewhere in the early 90’s, from the dusty shelves of the first music store where I worked, Caramel Market.

Wire have reformed 4 years ago, and I’ve been trying to watch them ever since. They played on September 27, 2008, in a tiny French club called La Maroquinerie, and the gig lived up to my expectations, and more. I had already seen qui te a few wonderful shows at La Maroquinerie, including American Music Club, The Beta Band, and !!! (a fabulous, unfettered celebration, that one…), but none of these really matched the intensity of Wire that night.

They were in high form, playing their new and older songs at an alarming, nervous pace, with barely any interruption from one track to the other. Energetic stop-start drumming, angular, spiky guitar lines, and roaring bass playing… The three men and accompanying lady on stage pulled all the stops, and brilliantly, too…

The years seem to have weighed very little on Colin Newman & co, seeing that the concert lasted quite a while… Highlights were evidently tracks from their early, late 70’s albums, the famous trilogy of ‘Chairs Missing’, ‘Pink Flag’, and ‘154’, but excerpts from the band’s recent outing, “Object 47′, fared quite well too. Raucous stuff, indeed!

[Photo by Ziad Nawfal]

Wire, 27/09/08

Wire, 27/09/08

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Munma & Trash Inc. Live at B018 (19/09/08)

Click on the following link to listen to 30 minutes from the set: munma-trash-inc-live-b018

Neither Jawad Nawfal (aka Munma) or Nabil Saliba (aka Trash Inc) are new to live venues or performing in front of a crowded audience. Jawad has taken his AEX and Munma formations to various venues in Lebanon (the Basement, Club Social, the Byblos Festival…), as well as abroad, while Nabil Saliba’s previous drumming duties with Franco-Lebanese rock band New Government also induced its fair share of live performing… but neither one of them was quite ready for this.

The atmosphere at B018 that night was quite different from anything the boys had witnessed before, or anything this famed dance venue had come to present its audience. As it slowly filled up, there was a general feeling of anticipation, of eager expectation, good humored and friendly, regarding this live electronic/dance concert, these two bands’ first in B018 . And those patient enough to wait for them to take the stage at 3am, were not disappointed.

Djette Caroline (Jawad’s wife) started warming the crowd at 2am, and had a hard time getting a grip on the venue’s rugged equipment, seeing that the available CD players had presumably been taken to hell and back by previous hard-hitting hordes of DJ’s, both local and foreign. She played a decent set, consisting mostly of breaks and electro-house, until Munma and Trash Inc. were urged to take the stage by an impatient crowd. From the beginning, they established the tone of the proceedings: an insistent, pumping electronic beat filtered through the speakers, giving them free rein to layer swathes of intricate loops and sounds. Nabil on synths and laptop-operated machinery, Jawad on yet another set up of computers and machines (I believe he brought out his new Pad for the occasion…) meshed and mingled a vast array of sounds, ranging from house-ish beats, minimal glitches and clicks, to synthesized, farting riffs straight out of 80’s and 90’s early dance productions. They even threw in some vocals in the mix, to the general delighted disbelief of their fans and friends, now filling B018 to the brim.

As their set proceeded, the boys scaled some unexpected heights, even for those of us who had become habituated to their oblique musical directions. They created a dense, compact core of beat-based reverberation, allowing them to geneerate a vast array of intricate sounds, which were then looped back and forth, then layered again to create a bright, shining sound-mass hovering between breaks, electro, and hard hitting tech-house.

Fine stuff, indeed.

You can now listen to a full section of the concert, by clicking on the link above.

Check out these 2 links as well:

http://www.trancehits.com/viewtopic.php?p=192024#192024

http://www.trancehits.com/viewtopic.php?p=191150#191150

Oh, and [Photos by Rachel Tabet]

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