Anatomy of a First Concert with Mory Hatem
The theatre is packed and all 600 seats of L’Olympia are occupied by fans, friends, and other music enthusiasts who have congregated to experience a unique event: a singer’s first solo concert in a new city. A few electric guitar chords put the whispering and chatting to a halt before red curtains rise to reveal four musicians and the man of the hour, Mory Hatem kicking off the evening with the French song that introduced him to TV audiences.
Seeing how stable he looks on this Montreal stage and hearing the confidence in his voice makes it hard to believe that it’s only been three months since Mory Hatem last appeared on the French-Canadian version of “The Voice.” Almost as hard as his humble declaration of feeling very nervous on this special night. “Very nervous and very happy” to be exact. The latter one, far more plausible, matches the broad smile that spreads across his face.
There only is one first time.
First flirt, first flight, first flat, and since opening night doesn’t come around twice, how does one approach a first concert? What are the tricks and traps? The Lebanese’s genuine and omnipresent pleasure of being up there is a key ingredient based on the warm response that his ice-breaking performance got. Pleasure and a rather rare attribute for artists at the dawn of their career: Modesty.
Simplicity too, but mostly modesty. There might only be one opening night, but many more concerts shall follow. Therefore, going all out with an over-dose of glitz and glamour was clearly never Mory’s plan. Even if he did disappear in what felt like unnecessary amounts of smoke at times, the lights remained simple, waltzing smoothly between reds and blues. Relying on his band and two back-up singers instead of elaborate sets, projections, and other LED extravagances to create the right atmosphere for each song paid off as the focus was, and remained on the artist and his voice for most of the evening.
In a two-hour performance made almost entirely of covers, the singer often took a moment to thank the audience for their support and to share a personal story behind his selections. What could easily have turned into a random succession of songs with nothing in common felt more like a private album that the audience was invited to peek into.
This sense of intimacy and proximity that he created in the venue also resonated whenever he extended an arm towards the center of the room, invited the crowd to sing along in the middle of a song or asked them to squeeze tight to fit in a selfie!
In going from Édith Piaf to Justin Timberlake and Frank Sinatra, Mory showcased how broad his range is. If variety is a way to display quality, it’s also too often used inappropriately. Without making the evening any less enjoyable, this desire to show his range was a trap that the 27-year old fell into. A desire to please and reach everybody that could explain why some songs fell flat compared to those that caused goosebumps and tapping feet in every row.
Instead of acting like a superstar and coming off rather pompous, The Voice’s runner-up weaved his songs with the simplicity, discrete joy, openness and generosity towards his colleagues that made him a well-liked contestant on the TV program. Such a combination leaves the audience with an impression of having met and gotten to know someone when leaving the concert hall.
Some of this musical night’s highlights go back to this idea of simply seeing and just listening to a singer: those songs where he almost did not move across the stage to put all his energy in his interpretation, except for a very few head moves to connect with his audience and musicians. Like French-Armenian singing legend Charles Aznavour said when launching a brand new tour at 91 years old: “This show is about myself and the songs that I love and cannot wait to share with spectators. It ain’t about dance routines and fireworks! It never was and it won’t start now!”
Such a statement explains the warmer and stronger reactions that Mory’s take on “My Way“ and “L’Hymne à l’Amour” got from the crowd in comparison to the songs where dancers performed modern or belly dance solos by and around him.
If choosing to go all-in by not having an opening act seemed to please the Olympia spectators, the announcement of an intermission did not have the same effect and left a few puzzled. On the bright side, Mory had played his hand right as people clearly wanted more. That little break allowed the singer to trade his suit for a more casual look and join his back-ups for a few dance steps in the show’s second hour.
This subtle transformation was another winning element of the formula. Even if the young interpret does not have a huge original song catalog to choose from, those present could feel distinct moods and atmospheres build to a crescendo that was a well-thought through show order.
The singer had undeniable, tangible fun performing on his big night. People clapped, cheered and left with smiles on their faces in which one could read “what’s next?” and that is the important question that Mory and any other singer coming out of their first solo concert should ask themselves.
Even if the vocals, rhythm, energy, and charisma are all there, one also needs to define themselves, come up with a signature, establish a style that will help create, promote and sell future songs, albums and concerts.
Right now, like many singers starting on their own, Mory seems hesitant to pick a style and devote himself entirely to it. Is he pop, soul, jazz, or something else? Which musical path will turn him into the best that he can be?
One day at a time, one show at a time and, for this anatomy of a first concert’s lesson, the audience seems to have given the singer more than the passing grade!