BYBLOS: The 19th-century American novelist and essayist Herman Melville left behind an illustrious literary legacy. The author of “Moby Dick” died in 1891, so it’s impossible to know what he would have thought of his 21st-century pop culture reflection, U.S. electronic dance music icon Richard Melville Hall.
Based on the response of the audience that greeted Hall at the Byblos International Festival Tuesday evening, he may well be envious.
Most people wouldn’t know Richard Melville Hall if they tripped over him. But if you call him by his stage name, Moby, it’s enough to ignite a sea of floating mobile phones, rising from the audience to snap adoring photos of the performer. Anyway that was the response of the Byblos audience from the moment the electronica maestro stepped on stage.
Moby is, in essence, a dignified passe-partout in possession of a mixture of eclectic abilities – DJ, singer-songwriter, and musician, with a mastery of four instruments, not least percussion and guitar, all demonstrated to good advantage Tuesday night.
About the stage name: One, perhaps apocryphal, story has it that Richard Melville Hall’s parents gave it him, to reference the family’s lineal descent from Melville the author.
Moby has come a long way since the release of his first single “Go” in the early ’90s, though his road to fame hasn’t been easy, and the rollercoaster of styles with which he experimented had its detractors.
In his early years, some criticized him for dithering with when it came to musical genre – especially in the mid-’90s, when he veered from electronica toward punk rock.
Among his early, and later, admirers the songster’s musical redemption came with his succeeding albums “Play” and “18,” which earned him critical approval and worldwide celebrity.
Moby would go on to work with such well-established rock’n’roll icons as David Bowie, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and Michael Jackson, whether collaborating with them directly or remixing their older work.
Ten albums, 20 million sold copies and 15 awards later, Moby’s status as an electronic music pioneer has become beyond reproach.
Garbed in basic black, Moby’s comfortable stage presence – striding from one side of the stage to the other as he played, interacting little with the much younger crowd – galvanized the audience. His modest attire didn’t make him, or his music, any less engaging.
Moby’s performance embodies the “less is more” principle. There wasn’t a stage prop to be seen, the music alone being sufficient to compel his audience into night-long dancing. It was not long until those who’d paid to sit through the show were standing and dancing as well.
Predictably perhaps, it was Moby’s first single, “Go,” that propelled him onto a fanatical frenzy, frolicking back and forth on stage, impelling the already electrified crowd to do the same. The lively electronic number, accompanied by a seizure-inducing red-and-blue lightshow, prompted even the most stationary audience members to bounce among the ecstatically pogo-ing horde.
Moby’s music grows on you. You need not know any of his tunes to delight in his performance – the ambience of which is closer to a night of clubbing than a conventional concert. You don’t even have to take any pills to get high.
As is the way of large-venue concerts, though, it’s the artist’s more accessible, commercially known tracks that drummed up much of the audience’s enthusiasm. “Travel So High” is a prime example. In spite of its ambient aspect, the tune was very well received by the audience.
This also applied to the quixotic “Porcelain,” which Moby dedicated to Lebanon – this “beautiful country and this city.” The dreamy track transported the audience into utopian trance, as many waved their arms in time to the hypnotic beat.
Few musicians accompanied Moby on stage, manipulating violin, drums, guitar, keyboards and, of course, laptop. What they lacked for in numbers they more than compensated for in expert enthusiasm.
The surprise highlight of the show was vocalist Joy Malcom, who at several times came close to stealing Moby’s fire.
Her versatile voice took Malcom from mournful soul to a gravelly androgyny. Her attitude and outfit stood in striking contrast to Moby’s and she animated much of the gig, getting as much attention as the headliner.
Of the latter songs, a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was particularly well received. Madder, more vigorous and manic than the other numbers performed, it sent the audience into paroxysms of applause.
Tuesday night may have been dull for many people, but those in Byblos had no reason to complain.
The Byblos International Festival continues Saturday with the soulful tunes of French superstar Florent Pagny. For more information try 09 54 20 20 or infobyblosfestival.org