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Snow Patrol refuses to wilt in Byblos heat
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JBEIL, Lebanon: The old flower-seller’s gardenia garlands drooped as the sticky audience filed past. The sun sank, but the temperature stubbornly refused to follow suit. Those who ascended the bank of temporary seating above Byblos Port were afforded no relief. A desperate-looking woman fanned her listless partner with her entrance ticket. The awaited band’s motif – a lone snowflake – seemed to mock her as the ticket waved through the soupy air.

When the show started, it took the pasty Irishman who fronts Snow Patrol all of 20 minutes to declare Byblos the hottest place his band has played.

Yet Gary Lightbody, in defiance of Lebanon’s midsummer climate, refused to wilt. What’s more, each time the packed concert space’s crowd waned, Lightbody responded with enthusiasm and empathy.

Sweaty and smiling, he seized breaks in the lyrics to casually sling bottles of water to his suffering audience.

The hour-and-a-half-long playlist effectively synopsized the band’s development since 2004.

Songs from “Final Straw,” the album that finally earned the then-decade-old alternative rock group international acclaim, punctuated tunes from the 2011 record “Fallen Empires,” showcasing developments in sound and composition as well as theme – the turbulent, helicopter-landing-pad feel of “Final Straw” replaced by something more refined.

Speaking to The Daily Star ahead of Tuesday night’s concert, the band’s guitarist, Nathan Connolly credits the production of “Fallen Empires” with the band’s growth.

“Since this more recent record ... we’re playing off each other a lot more. Dynamics are changing or have changed. The kind of way we engage with each other on stage, we’re a lot more confident. You know, we’re doing what we should be doing,” he explained. “We’re growing as a band and [we’ve] become better musicians.

“And I guess confidence has come up a lot on this record,” he added, “We’re coming to terms with the fact that we are good and we can do this.”

Such anthem-like tunes as “Run” and “Chasing Cars,” both of which have featured on the soundtracks of popular U.S. television series, catapulted the group into the U.S. spotlight in the mid 2000s, and indeed were likely the initials draws for much of Tuesday night’s audience.

Snow Patrol wouldn’t dream of disappointing this trusted fan base.

“We have to play to our strengths,” Connolly said, glancing across at the temporary stage from the bar of the Byblos sur Mer hotel. “‘Chasing cars’ and ‘Run’ are part of who we are.”

Predictably, later that evening the Byblos crowd responded suitably – voices raised, iPhones aloft – to renditions of both.

“But, I think we’re all excited about this new thing that’s come in.” Describing the latest album, and particularly its title track “Fallen Empires” as “kind of the future of how I see Snow Patrol,” Connolly mused that perhaps the record has not been heard enough.

It was a bit of a surprise, then, that Tuesday’s audience seemed familiar with the CD’s bigger numbers, reveling particularly in the strains of “This isn’t everything you are,” “Called out in the dark” and an encore performance of the simple but evocative “Life-ning.”

Lightbody visibly reflected the audience’s delight.

Sweat couldn’t dispel the mirth ruling the 36-year-old’s boyish face as he expressed his gratitude, humility and told the crowd Snow Patrol would surely grace the Levant again.

Bands often talk in a lot of cliched, and frankly boring, platitudes when onstage, but something about Snow Patrol radiates sincerity.

Maybe it’s born of Lightbody’s 18-year perseverance in the industry, or even that when he sings his voice is laced with his Northern Irish accent. Or perhaps it’s in the band’s candid attitude toward itself.

Next week, Snow Patrol will once again grace the stage at London’s Hyde Park for the Olympics Opening Ceremony Concert. The last time they played the outdoor venue was at Live 8 in 2005, a performance Connolly unflinchingly describes as “quite frankly shit.”

Since then, much has changed. Years spent on the 360 Tour with veteran rock group U2 have taught the band a thing or two about live performance, as evidenced Tuesday night.

But neither an apprenticeship with Bono & Co. nor international commercial success has made the group cocky.

Gazing across Byblos, which he describes as “kind of idyllic,” hours before taking to the stage, Connolly admits he thinks Snow Patrol is now “the best we’ve been live. Hopefully you’ll see that tonight,” he said, adding humbly, “so long as we don’t f**k it up.”

Rest assured, Snow Patrol, in the opinion of an overheated audience with its tolerance at a low ebb, you did anything but.

The Byblos International Festival concludes on July 25 with a show by the Grammy-winning Tuareg band Tinariwen. For more information see http://www.byblosfestival.org.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 19, 2012, on page 16.
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