BEIRUT: Shoppers passing by Momo, at the Beirut Souks, Wednesday evening may have been taken aback by the unexpected sound of indie music blasting out.
The event, emceed by Allan Chaaraoui (recognized in indie music circles as a member of the band Lazzy Lung), was a concert by Lebanon’s Near Surface, organized to mark the launch of their first album, “Crooked Landings.
”Devotees of the local music scene may have found the players’ faces familiar. Indeed, on other days, the members of Near Surface go by the name Amy Smack Daddy.
“Amy Smack Daddy is a cover band,” said guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Najjar. “Near Surface [composes its own] original songs.”
Najjar’s Near Surface lineup is completed by bassist Cyril Yabroudi, lead guitarist Elie Zarka and drummer Carlos Abboud.
The ensemble’s CD launch show lit a musical fire at Momos.
The band was brought together three-years ago by a wedding – that is as part of a project to form a cover band to entertain the guests at a wedding reception.
The first ‘child’ of this marriage, and the players’ shared passion, was Amy Smack Daddy, and with it the four musicians’ ongoing musical adventures.
All the songs on “Crooked Landings” were composed by Yabroudi, Najjar and Zarka. The album was recorded in Paris in 2011 and mastered by Tim Young from London’s Metropolis Studios. “We lived like rock stars,” said Yabroudi, recollecting the band’s overseas recording experience.
The most important thing for Near Surface, Najjar explained, was for them to show the difference between the two bands and their respective playlists.
Amy Smack Daddy plays tunes you would expect to hear on the radio, whereas the music of Near Surface is, you might say, a little more intimate.
During Wednesday evening’s show, spectators were taken on a musical journey though the band’s collective imagination, with the landscape shifting from rock ballads – “N.T.K.O” and “Now You’re Here” – to such funky musical arrangements as in “Level 45.”
Each player hails from a different musical background. Yabroudi explained that he and Zarka are more interested in classical music than pop. Abboud is a metal fanatic, whereas Najjar is keen on modern rock and grunge. The blending of these musical affiliations makes for a one-of-a-kind album with electrifying guitar solos, classically inflected soft pop arrangements and amazing drumbeats.
The band’s official website probably best defines Near Surface: “Alternative rock that’s as hard-edged and diverse as Beirut itself.”
Najjar’s vocals are on the hoarse, gruff side. You might imagine such a rough tone would grate against soft pop, yet in the tune “Stranded,” the last track of the album, Najjar’s voice perfectly punctuates the guitar and percussion licks.
The band certainly pumped up the volume at the Moroccan-style space, its sophisticated ambiance undiminished by the waft of meta-edged rock’n’roll billowing through.
As is the fashion nowadays, the show was accompanied by video projections, of the track titles in this case, along with a large poster of the four band members – which can also be found in the album catalogue.
Near Surface succeeded in showing there is more than their shared musical passion. There is a strong sense of camaraderie in their performance and they played like a single entity, with excellent communication between the four players.
The interludes between individual tunes may have a bit long at points, but this only contributed to the show’s improvisational vibe, as though you were watching a gig put on by friends.
Near Surface’s “Crooked Landings” is available in Virgin Megastores. For more information on the band, please visit their website: www.nearsurfaceband.com