Entertainment behind the scenes
Oh brothers, where art thou? Bee Gee Robin Gibb bombs in Beirut
Back in the late 1970s, when the Bee Gees helped turn disco into a worldwide fad, “Stayin’ Alive” was the daily name of the game for the folks in war-torn Beirut. But now that the Lebanese capital is busy reacquiring its status as the Paris/Hong Kong/(insert your exotic city here) of the Middle East, the essential frivolity and exuberance of disco finally fit right in.
So, Bee Gees member Robin Gibb’s solo concert on Saturday inside a giant marquee near the revitalized downtown area should have been a celebration of survival. Sadly the show was, to borrow another Bee Gees song, a bit of a Tragedy. Gibb raced through 22 songs in just under 90 minutes, and failed to muster much enthusiasm from the 9,000-strong audience until halfway in when they finally got on their feet for “Night Fever.”
Gibb — the brother who is not the toothy lead-singing falsetto, Barry, or the dead one, Maurice — has been touring the world singing not only the band’s hits, but the ones they wrote for others, like Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love” and Dionne Warwick’s “Heartbreaker.” The problem is that most of the trio’s big songs were originally sung by Barry. Robin Gibb and his crew — a four-man band and three back-up singers — were little more than a covers act. He was often relegated to supporting player as his two female singers did the heavy lifting on the songs with the high notes. Sometimes he seemed to disappear altogether: when he moved from his perch in front of his well-used teleprompter to wander around the stage, the spotlight failed to follow him.
The low-budget sound and lighting — What? No mirror ball, or illuminated dance floor? — accentuated the inherent cheapness of the event. Not that it was cheap to get in. Ticket prices ranged from $500 to $60, and there were plenty of vacant seats in the $150 area near the soundboard. The evening started off so well, long before Gibb took to the stage 45 minutes after the advertised starting time. Beirutis are evidently not as paranoid about event security as Americans. There were no patdowns at the door, no metal detectors. In place of grim ushers in yellow jackets, were pretty girls in figure-hugging black jeans and white spaghetti-strap tank tops.
Like his idol Paul McCartney, Gibb is an engaging person in conversation, but he is not one for profound stage patter. Indeed his routine consisted largely of a dozen repetitions of “Hello Beirut, Hello Lebanon.” Gibb dusted off all of the brothers’ contributions to “Saturday Night Fever,” the massive 1977 disc that turned the band into megastars. But in a show of faux embarrassment, he referred to the movie merely as “that film.” The band has been defensive about its ties with disco, but enough time has passed for the Gibbs to embrace their heritage.
The best songs were the ones he originally sang lead on, like the early hits “Massachusetts,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You” and “I Started a Joke” — all showcases for his elegantly mournful voice. One of the biggest cheers of the evening came when Gibb said he would bring along Barry next time, which was not exactly a vote of confidence in his solo abilities. Apart from that, he did not mention his brothers by name, nor did he perform any of the hits they wrote for ill-fated youngest sibling Andy.
In singing their Streisand composition, he changed the first line of the chorus to “You are a woman in love,” because it would have been weird to sing it in the first person. But it underscored the awkward nature of the entire show. “Islands in the Stream,” a hit for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, could have gone down better if he had dueted with a local starlet. “You Should Be Dancing” was another missed opportunity — why not bring audience members on the stage to dance along?
After a three-song encore, topped by an anticlimactic “Stayin’ Alive,” Gibb wasted little time getting off the stage. He evidently wanted to beat the traffic back to the hotel, which is understandable since the city’s daredevil drivers were spinning wheelies out of the parking lot within minutes of the lights coming up. Beirut’s famed nightclubs were about to open, and concertgoers were probably jonesing for some more-authentic Saturday Night Fever.