Seal gave his kiss from a rose and rocked Beiteddine Palace, Lebanon

Published July 18th, 2016 - 11:00 GMT
The artists showed yet again that he and his hits have passed the test of time.
The artists showed yet again that he and his hits have passed the test of time.

There's a maxim that songs are written only about three things: sex, drugs and love. Seal, the London-born singer-songwriter whose velvet voice reached across the halls of Beiteddine Palace Thursday night, is all about the latter.

That's not to say he has forgotten his British rave-scene past.

Bursting onto the scene in 1991, appearing on DJ Adamski's trance hit "Killer," many of Seal's more upbeat numbers are infused with the euphoria and energy of early '90s dance music, including his first solo single success, "Crazy."

It was with this tune that he made his entrance, wearing what appeared to be a red leather shirt, against a background of Ottoman stone arches, lightning-bolt graphics and dry ice.

"Crazy," a song at once ethereal with reverb and then chock full of insistent high vocals and acid house percussion, is inescapably a child of the early '90s.

Yet, as Seal stepped into the adoring crowd, caressing a young lady's cheek as he sang, "I see you my friend and I touch your face again," it was clear that the song had passed the test of time.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. Today is an era where the White House is likely to have a Clinton occupant, Pokemon are taking over the world and "Ghostbusters" is hitting the big screen once again.

So "Crazy," written in response to a worldwide anxiety witnessed after Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall, may not be so inappropriate for today's climate after all.

Whether Seal's wild reception in the Chouf was down to nostalgia or a genuine, long-standing admiration from his audience was difficult to tell.

Either way, he was loving it.

"It's great to see you," he enthused. "It's great to feel you."

Indeed he was. Seal's showman style is very hands-on, literally.

As he settled into the middle, more soulful, part of his set, his guitarist switching from electric to acoustic, Seal's hands were rarely free of the clutch of the more wide-eyed members of the crowd.

Slipping onto a stool brought on stage for the slower numbers, Seal's silky baritone, at 53, has lost none of its forcefulness.

His own soul tracks, plucked from a clutch of early eponymous albums, resemble much of the late 20th-century British rhythm and blues era – from Heather Small's early success in Hot House to the Lighthouse Family.

It wasn't until he began a cover of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" that Seal really found the response he was looking for.

Quite possibly thanks to people suddenly being familiar enough with a song to belt out its lyrics, the palatial 19th-century courtyard staging the Beiteddine Festival was treated to an en mass, if not especially tuneful, rendition of the soul classic.

Soon after, the lights dimmed and Seal made an abrupt, if not dramatic, exit from the stage.

Anyone familiar with the artist, however, was under no illusions as to what was to come next.

After a few minutes' suspense, interspersed with the odd wail and rhythmic clapping, the artist returned for his award-winning and iconic number.

"Kiss from a Rose" is a strange song.

The "hey-nonny" scatting with which it opens gives the song a dreamy but peculiarly Elizabethan element – a power ballad with a Tudor twist. But as the song rises into an ever more complex and melodious crescendo, it is not difficult to see its enduring appeal, both as a jukebox banger and romantic moment favorite.

Finally Seal had a self-written song that everyone could sing to, his mastery of the melodies often drowned out by overexcited fans belting out the "baby!" as if trying to steal the musician's show themselves.

For many, that would have been all the ending they needed.

But Seal, ever the party man deep into middle age, wanted one last dance – blazing out in high-tempo trance glory.

Beiteddine continues July 19-20 with Ballet Preljocaj's staging of Prokofiev's "Romeo & Juliette."

By Daniel Hilton


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