Published Oct 05, 2013"They're not that well known, but they're interesting and they're good," I hear the dude behind me tell his friend as we wait to squeeze into Lee's Palace. The subject in question is Lebanese pop/rock band Mashrou' Leila, and the statement can equally apply to the independent band's current "recorded in Montreal" album Raasuk ("They Made You Dance") and the performance they delivered on this night.
The fact that frontman Hamed Sinno is openly gay is only relevant within an Arab Spring context, specifically Mashrou' Leila's musical mandate to challenge and satirize a traditionally conservative Middle Eastern society — carried out via the sexual and political content within the all-Arabic lyrics.
Even if you don't speak the language, Sinno's smooth falsetto vocals, his Freddie Mercury-esque sex appeal and the tight chemistry of the five-piece band (including violins, bass, guitar, drums) carry a universal appeal that speaks to discerning music lovers.
Performing numbers off the new album such as the title track "Raasuk" and lead single "Lel Watan" serve to reveal their pop sensibilities. A track like "Ala Babu" gets the crowd hyped; Sinno's struts and dance moves amp up the energy. While not overtly singing or discussing politics, the very fact the band exists is apparently statement enough. "You guys alright?" Sinno asked towards the end of the show. Judging from the loud response, the query was strictly a rhetorical one.