Monday, June 19, 2006

Concert review of Haifa Wehbe & 50 Cent in Beirut

Here's a review of the Haifa Wehbe & 50 Cent concert in Beirut on 10 June, from the Daily Star (Beirut). (Photo is of Haifa at the concert.) For comments on the show and more photos go here. Sounds like Haifa was pretty disappointing, 50 Cent was pretty good, and that the venue sucked. It seems that the audience was full of very rich pre-teens, who demonstrated their "gangsta" proclivities by tossing around plastic bottles of water.

By Lysandra Ohrstrom and Tom McCarthy
Daily Star staff
Monday, June 12, 2006


BEIRUT: If you've asked anyone about rapper-megastar 50 Cent's performance at the Beirut International Exhibition and Liesure Center (BIEL) Saturday night, most likely they've told you how great the show was. Granted, the sound was off. Like the heat coming from the crowd, most of the lyrics seemed to rise straight to the upper reaches of the barn-like venue and get lost.

And unlike the rapper's September 2004 appearance in Dubai, which featured a full-squad deployment of his backup group, the G-Unit, Saturday's production was carried by a skeleton crew of Young Buck and the sultry-voiced Olivia - no Tony Yayo, no Lloyd Banks.

On the other hand the audience was spared, without explanation, an appearance by Cuba Gooding Jr, whose presence had been promised on countless concert posters and touted by a months-long public relations blitz.

It would be going too far to say that Fiddy flopped, given the waves of cheers, the hothouse excitement of the pubescent crowd wielding camera-phones and the words of praise that fans had for their idol after the show.

But as things folded up around 2 a.m., there was no mistaking the sense that what the concert promoters were calling "The Biggest Ever Show in Lebanon" was not, in the end, all that.

The feeling of nagging disappointment began with an underwhelming turn on stage by national treasure Haifa Wehbe, whose unabashedly sexual romp won only half-hearted applause. Perhaps owing to the awful acoustics of the venue - a gigantic tent-thing glommed onto BIEL's main hall - she came across as something less than powerful in the lungs, as perky as she was otherwise.

"I love you so much," she cooed, bouncing pluckily across the stage in tight denim hot-pants and a top that read "No Photos" in sequins on its formidable front. The crowd didn't quite reciprocate - with the possible exceptions of a few drooling hormonal boys who stood ogling publicity stills of the starlet projected larger-than-life on screens flanking the stage.

"Haifa, she belongs to the hot chicks," said Waled, who gave his age as "12-and-a-half," following the famous coquette's dripping performance at the stroke of midnight of her runaway hit "Wawa."

That the audience was focused early on the projected images walling the auditorium, instead of the live act, was quaintly appropriate for what followed. It was the image of 50 Cent, his brand rather than the quality of his performance Saturday, that fueled the crowd. The audience's unflagging energy ultimately saved the concert.

Whatever else he is, 50 Cent is a big star. If Fiddy had a dime for every number-one hit he made, he'd have, well, more than half a buck. "In Da Club," "Candy Shop," "Just a Lil' Bit," "PIMP" - he performed them all for his Beirut base, cramming more than 20 songs into a set that ran just over an hour.

The star's 2003 album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," went multi-multi platinum, selling 6.3 million copies in the US alone, and the 2005 follow-up "The Massacre" sold 4.9 million. As the king of what seems to be the one American export the world still has an undiminished appetite for - hip-hop music - 50 Cent has a massive following, and the admirers (and their guardians) packing BIEL demonstrated that Lebanon is no exception.

Performing on a spare, portable stage with nothing but a wall of programmed spotlights as a backdrop, the rapper had the crowd in thrall from the opening number, "What Up Gangsta." From there on in, the teetotalling, bible-quoting, honey-loving thug mounted an all-out assault of hits.

The thousands of 10-to-20-year-old loyalists, who probably had to save a month's allowance for tickets to the show, some of which cost $300, seemed unfazed that apart from waving a flag, the headliner did not give even a token shout-out to Lebanon to prove that he knew where he was. (The closest he came were repeated observations that "It's hot in this mother******.")

Wherever he takes the stage, 50 Cent, ne Curtis Jackson, comes with an against-all-odds back-story that is ready-made for film (the flop of his recent Hollywood-adapted life story notwithstanding). Any fan could run down the list: impoverished upbringing in South Jamaica, Queens; mother murdered when he was eight; the drug-dealing career that landed him in jail in 1994; the nine bullets he took, with seeming indifference, in 2000; his artistic breakthrough under the guidance of Eminem and Dr. Dre; subsequent worldwide superstardom.

"Back before I took this trip," said the star in a segue to his hit "If I Can't," "when I was in LA, I was in the studio with Dr. Dre. And I said if I can't do it, baby it can't be done." Shotgun blasts; bass bumps; crowd goes nuts.

Part of the thrill of seeing Fiddy live was apparent Saturday night in the gap between his hard-earned gangster persona and his to-the-manner-born fans. Sure, security had to break up a couple fights in the crowd, one between two men who were slapping and kicking each other in not quite the old South Side style. But apart from the scuffles, and the constant stream of expletives coming from the stage, it was a pretty vanilla scene.

"He's the greatest rapper living now," said Beiruti Ahmad Yassine, 17, after the show, the caveat owing to the untimely demise of 1990s hip-hop trailblazers "Tupac and Biggy."

Tamer, 16, who has been a loyal fan "forever, like four years," said that despite the violent theme running through the artist's work, listening to 50 Cent is more about bringing people together than glorifying bloodshed. "Everyone at my school loves Fiddy," he said. "There is no religion in rap."

When asked about all the gunshots, Ray Harb, 10, who was escorted by his 18-year-old sister Carol, said, "If there were more little kids here, it could have been bad. But it's not a big deal."

Khalil Ghulmiyyah, 18, said afterward that the outing was a marked improvement from the rapper's 2004 Dubai show.

"50 Cent sucked in Dubai," Ghulmiyyah said. "His voice is bad without studio backup, and there were only like 4,000 people there. He's better here ... the energy of the concert overpowered his performance by like three trillion."

About halfway through the show the crowd began to display that energy by throwing plastic bottles, in what turned into an all-out water war between fans and star.

Less hardened performers might have been put off by having half-liters of Sohat continuously chucked at their heads. The smiling Fiddy didn't even flinch, and with something of a school boy's glee dug into his continually replenished onstage arsenal and returned fire.

Maybe he didn't know where he was; in any case, he parted with a fond farewell.

"Before we leave this b****, everybody holler 50 Cent!"

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John Schaefer said...

Goodness... I saw the scenes from the pre-party and 50 Cents' press conference on Lebanese TV:

"Do you ever want to collaborate with an Arab musician?"

"...Maybe with Haifa. She's hot."

Anonymous said...

i think its great that 50cent went to lebannon and i hope he likes it there.I love lebanon to bits and i like haifa and 50cent..i listen to both their music.....NO HATIN....wen i herd about this i thougt this was too good.