Take a look back at the most memorable UAE concerts from the 2013/14 season
Following an incredible run of outdoor mega-gigs in late May (JT, Kings of Leon, Black Sabbath... all in SIX days), the UAE gig calendar is suddenly looking slightly bare. And we all know why – it’s getting rather toasty out of doors, and we’re sad to say it will be for some time. Until things kick back off in about four months time (date for the diary: Sandance October 10), occupy yourselves with a walk down memory lane. Take a look at our round-up of the biggest and best UAE gigs from the 2013/2014 winter season.
Will.i.am, Timbaland and Selena Gomez Event: Dubai Music Week When: Friday September 27-Saturday September 28, 2013 Where: Dubai World Trade Centre
The petite singer hit the stage in style, with industrial fans blasting away at her hair to complete the look of feminine empowerment. Gomez strutted up and down the stage and pouted behind her diamond encrusted mic. Her adoring fans were in a frenzy of adoration – a fanbase that seemed to predominantly consist of hysterical young girls. Gomez, who was projected on to giant screens, verbalised her appreciation in a set which included her hit ‘Come and Get it.’
The quirky Black Eyed Peas front man and producer treated his fans to a window into his own personal music taste with a live DJ set. Standing in front of an enormous screen projecting futuristic graphics, Will.i.am played plenty of hits in his set. Despite the fact that the American superstar took to the stage late, it didn’t seem to discourage his lively supporters, who turned out in decent numbers.
Al Murray Event: Al Murray - The Only Way Is Epic Tour When: Friday October 04, 2013 Where: Dubai World Trade Centre
Never out of character for a wink, Murray’s gregarious Pub Landlord ably demonstrated the length and breadth of Brit expat life by picking not just on aging, balding blokes who work in oil and gas, but fairly sharing his (character’s) contempt out amongst the bulk of the front row. By the end of the show, the entire audience were well acquainted with Lonely Mike, Ten-tonne-Tim, The Ancient Traveller, two clueless bankers, ‘Biscuits’ and ‘the lovely Nicola’. A master class of audience engagement, the pace only slackened slightly in the more formulaic second half, closing with a forced slapstick routine about getting a pop-up tent back in its container. All in all a triumphant return from one of Dubai’s favourite comics.
Rick Ross Event: Rick Ross Live When: Friday October 4, 2013 Where: Al Badia Golf Club
The boss of Maybach Music and rapper, who likes to spell his name with dollar signs, was performing live in Dubai for the first time at Festival City. Hip-Hop fans were treated to one of the strongest line ups we’ve seen in the city for some time with the Rozay supported on the bill by American rappers MIMS and Red Café. Not known for shying away from the odd feud, Ross was on expected form, performing the set that the crowd of urban music fans had hoped for. He went down a storm and needless to say, there were a fair amount of caps on show.
Jason Byrne in Dubai Event: Jason Byrne When: Thursday October 10, 2013 Where: McGettigan's JLT
Irish funnyman returned to Dubai with an all-new show, Jason Byrne’s Special Eye. And made us laugh again. Lots.
The Killers, Of Monsters And Men, The Wailers Event: SANDANCE presents The Killers, Of Monsters And Men, The Wailers & more When: Friday October 11, 2013 Where: Atlantis Beach, The Palm
The final stop on their world tour saw The Killers take to the stage in style at Sandance in Dubai. Blasting off with Mr Brightside the band delivered all of the hits an expectant crowd were hoping for. Brandon Flowers was on fine form, exuding confidence and holding the stage effortlessly. The show, which went on for well over an hour, was a populist showcase of the band’s greatest hits from the last decade, with the encore involving a rabble-rousing rendition of Jenny Was A Friend of Mine before closing with When You Were Young. The synth-infused rockers were on top, well rehearsed form off the back of their other previous gigs and Flowers was vocally diverse and robust. There were moments where the group’s less well-known material crept into the set but this didn’t seem to deter the boisterous crowd’s enjoyment, with the audience happily singing along to the poppy cheese hit Human. Following a strong set from Of Monsters and Men and rumours of discord within the group, The Killers ultimately came through triumphantly and delivered a storming set on the beach at Atlantis.
Rihanna Event: Rihanna Diamonds World Tour When: October 19, 2013 Where: du Arena, Yas Island
Fans of all ages, from all places and wearing all outfits came together to see Rihanna rock the stage at Du Arena on Saturday. The Barbadian singer performed a host of songs off her latest album, Unapologetic, as well as crowd pleasing hits from previous albums. ‘Riri’ energetically entertained and enthralled in a fl owing all-white get-up, including a legionnaires hat... which may just make a come-back after this.
Russell Peters Event: Russell Peters Notorious World When: Wednesday October 23, 2013 Where: dU arena, Yas Island
Following record-breaking sell-out gigs in Dubai a year earlier, ‘the UAE’s favourite comedian’ this time packed the capital for one night in Yas.
Jay Z and Muse, Depeche Mode Event: Abu Dhabi F1 Where: Yas Island When: November 1-3, 2013
Jay-Z didn’t have 99 problems last Friday in Abu Dhabi, but he did have one – a power generator broke down during his otherwise excellent and polished set, meaning a 15 minute wait for the patient crowd (Timbaland kept the party going by spinning some tracks while the rest of the power supply was restored). The remainder of the night was plain sailing for the American urban music legend, who performed all his hits including ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’, ‘Encore’ and ‘Run This Town’.
In subsequent nights Muse proved why they’re one of the best-rated live band in the world with a performance which redefined the word ‘epic’, and Depeche Mode’s gloomy synths proved surprisingly stadium-friendly.
John Cleese Event: An Evening with John Cleese When: Tuesday November 5 - Saturday November 9, 2013 Where: Madinat Theatre, Umm Suqeim
British Comedic legend Cleese – a pioneer with Monty Python and a household name with Fawlty Towers – brought his one-man show back to the emirates.
Alicia Keys Event: Alicia Keys - Set The World On Fire Tour When: Friday November 15, 2013 Where: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City
Not even a great line-up at Sandance just down the road could put off a massive crowd from turning up at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre to see New York singer, songwriter and musician Alicia Keys. Looking glamorous with a sleek, short hairstyle and with a group of dancers bringing an almost cabaret feel to proceedings, Alicia belted out all of her classics, including the anthemic ‘Girl On Fire’ and the magnifi cent ‘Empire State Of Mind’.
Jamiroquai Event: SANDANCE presents Jamiroquai, Basement Jaxx, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, Rudimental, Martin Solveig, Laidback Luke & Richard Durand When: Friday November 15, 2013 Where: Atlantis Beach, The Palm, Palm Jumeirah
British funk masters Jamiroquai performed a well received headline slot of hits at Sandance last weekend. The funk commenced early with a buoyant set of smash hits from pop veteran Nile Rodgers, who performed flanked by two sassy singers. Chic’s set was followed by lively appearances from British dance act Basement Jaxx and drum and bass stars Rudimental before DJs took to the decks to provide the late entertainment. With the bar queues less of a problem than previous festivals and a general good vibe in the air, we can’t wait to hit the sand again on December 31.
Cypress Hill We Are 9 by Infusion Event: We Are 9 by Infusion When: Friday December 6, 2013 Where: Atlantis Beach, The Palm
It was a night of vintage hip-hop as Afrika Bambaataa and Stereo MCs warmed up the crowd with a DJ set of cool tunes, and hands in the air before Latino hip-hop crew Cypress Hill took to the stage, who gave an energetic performance of some of their best hits, proving that they’ve still got it after over 20 years.
Calvin Harris and The Prodigy Event: Creamfields Where: Yas Island When: Friday December 11, 2013
On Friday, tens of thousands flocked to see The Prodigy, Calvin Harris, Hollaphonic and many more. The performances received rave reviews, crowds were enthusiastic and energetic bouncing the night away. The dresscode was glow sticks, costumes and mud.
Jazzy Jeff Event: Jazzy Jeff When: Tuesday December 31, 2013 Where: Barasti
It was the NYE surprise which turns heads, thrilled fans and set social media on fire – the moment when, just after midnight, Will Smith jumped on stage for a surprise performance of hit ‘Get Jiggy Wit It’ at Barasti in Dubai.
The Hollywood superstar was joined old sparring partner DJ Jazzy Jeff, with the pair first finding fame together back on TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Omar Khairat Event: Omar Khairat live in Dubai When: Thursday January 16, 2014 Where: Emirates Golf Club, Emirates Hills
The legendary Egyptian classical composer and pianist performed to a packed lawn at Dubai’s Emirates Golf Club. With a huge back catalogue, including numerous film scores, the often romantic music was received with rapturous applause as the award-winning star provided a fittingly mesmerising soundtrack against the glittering backdrop of Dubai Marina’s many skyscrapers.
Texas Event: Texas When: Thursday Jan 23, 2014 Where: The Irish Village, Garhoud
Texas lead singer Sharleen Spiteri was in chatty form as she took to the stage. A packed house turned out to see the Scottish band for their first ever live performance in Dubai, which followed a polished set of catchy, anthemic pop and saw fans break out into rapturous applause after every hit.
Zakir Hussain Event: Zakir Hussain's Nirvana 2014 featuring Shankar Mahadevan, Taufiq Qureshi, Louis Banks and Niladri Kumar When: Saturday January 25, 2014 Where: Madinat Arena, Umm Suqeim
Virtuoso table player Hussain played a staggering set with an all-new group to mark India’s Republic Day.
Wyclef Jean Event: Wyclef Jean When: Thursday January 30, 2014 Where: VIP Room, JW Marriott Marquis, Sheikh Zayed Road
An eager crowd got more than it bargained for when US actor and rapper Will Smith joined Wyclef in a beat-box session at VIP Room last Thursday night. Wyclef was on fire, playing The Fugees’ classic hit ‘Ready or Not’, a cover of Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’ before finishing with solo number ‘Perfect Gentleman’.
Steve Aoki Event: Steve Aoki When: Thursday February 6, 2014 Where: People by Crystal
LA-based EDM DJ Steve Aoki was mobbed by a herd of fans when he appeared in the loft section of People by Crystal on Thursday night. He played a solid set, feeling every beat of the music with deity-like impressions throughout his gig. At one point he sent his iconic inflatable raft through the crowds, with one (not-so)lucky lady chosen to surf the sea of fans before being dropped into the abyss. She escaped unharmed.
Sarah Brightman Event: Sarah Brightman in concert When: Thursday February 6 Where: Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
A mature crowd watched in awe as British classical singer Sarah Brightman took to the stage in a flurry of psychedelic lights on Thursday night. Looking like something out of a fairytale, the soprano arrived with spine-tingling sequence ‘Angel’ before she broke into ‘One Day Like This’. The crowd were noticeably moved throughout and the evening was unsually tasteful, with lady folk receiving a long-stemmed rose as they departed. Brightman was accompanied by contemporary dancers on stage for her Italian tracks before finishing with ‘A Time to Say Goodbye.
Tinie Tempah, Jessie J, Naughty Boy, Conor Maynard, John Newman AND The Lumineers Event: RedFest DXB When: Thursday February 13 and Friday 14, 2014 Where: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City
With an energetic set from UK rapper Tinie Tempah followed by fellow Brit singer Jessie J bringing up members of the audience to showcase their extraordinary talent, the first night of RedFest DXB was a memorable debut for the festival. The second day was equally eventful, with UK soul singer John Newman wowing revellers and Naughty Boy performing his smash hit ‘La La La’, before The Lumineers wrapped up the weekend.
Carlos Santana, Olly Murs, The Wanted, Jamie Cullum and Colbie Caillat Event: Dubai Jazz Festival When: Thursday February 13-Thursday 20, 2014 Where: Dubai Festival City
Ten-time Grammy award-winning guitarist and singer Carlos Santana’s appearance at Dubai Jazz Festival was one of the highlights of the whole week. The Mexican American musician’s Latin-infused sound captivated the appreciative crowd, who revelled in the chance to see a living legend live on stage. Best known for hit track ‘Maria Maria’ Santana made sure his fans weren’t disappointed.
Rolling Stones Event: Rolling Stones Where: du Arena, Yas Island When: Friday February 21
In the 50-plus year lifespan of The Rolling Stones, the seven months that passed between the band’s Middle Eastern debut in Abu Dhabi and their last appearance on stage in London’s Hyde Park, is fractional. But conceptually, that half-year is seismic – many thought the Stones’ historic outdoor gigs in London and Glastonbury were the perfect and fitting swansong for the most celebrated dinosaurs of rock n’ roll. But no – they raged on (‘52 & Counting’…?), into Asia and Australia on the clumsily dubbed 14 On Fire tour. Since those Hyde Park gigs both Mick and Keith have both turned 70 – can they really keep it up for another run?
On the basis of opening night at Yas Island’s du Arena – it’s a resounding yes. The Rolling Stones played an incredible two-hour set, brimming with bluster, groove, spirit, hits, history – most surprisingly – seeming enthusiasm. Mick Jagger repeatedly made attempts to drop Arabic into his between-song banter, told us with a grin how the band spent their four days in the capital (visits to Emirates Palace, Ferrari World and Falcon Hospital) and hilariously recited the UAE’s emirates (only Ajman excluded), cheekily building up to Dubai.
The seven month gap also may have given the band time to make peace with their largely-overlooked ’80s and ’90s output. Where Hyde Park’s setlist featured nothing younger than ‘Start Me Up’ (1981) – aside from token reunion single ‘Doom and Gloom’ – fans will be thrilled to hear about the inclusion of ‘You Got Me Rocking’ (1994) and ‘Slipping Away’ (1989) on the Abu Dhabi setlist.
Alongside a welcome revival of ‘Angie’, these were the only additions to the regular ’50 & Counting’ setlist – but what a set, and what songs. After groping for a groove with the crowd-pleasing one-two of ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘It’s Only Rock n’ Roll’, the riffs and choruses came thick and fast. Barroom burners ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Honky Tonk Women’ had all their trademark testosterone-fuelled Jagger-swagger intact, ‘Paint It Black’ conjured the demonic drive needed to match its theatrical silliness, and with Jagger on guitar ‘Doom and Gloom’ provided a punky sense of bite and urgency. Only 1980 disco pastiche ‘Emotional Rescue’, notable for Jagger’s misconstrued falsetto, fell a bit flat.
After scaling the first-half’s musical mountain of memories it was Keith’s turn to take the mic. Bringing all his hardened hedonism and lovable sincerity to the spotlight – master of the mischievous, freak-of-nature rock n’ roll survivor – Richards’ reading of overlooked ballad ‘Slipping Away’ and trademark ‘Before They Make Me Run’ – were surely the highlight for many hardened fans. Then reclaimed guitarist Mick Taylor – oddly not introduced until a passing reference as he left the stage, and wearing a weary expression to boot – was wheeled out for jagged blues marathon ‘Midnight Rambler’, the three intertwined guitars, staccato stop-starts and sudden tempo changes magnificent in their ragged glory.
After this purists’ paradise came the final furlong which we’ll dub The Hits – a seven-song stream of timeless musical moments few in this international crowd wouldn’t recognise. Disco groover ‘Miss You’ gave way to ‘Gimme Shelter’, voted online as the UAE’s favourite Stones song, here capturing all the turbulence of the tumultuous time it was penned. This was only outdone by the warhorse that is ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ – The Stones’ most-played song, an ecstatic trance of rock n’ roll bliss which wrapped up the set…
Until the encore, Jagger returning to the stage amid the tribal drumming and prophetic theatre of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. Then ‘Brown Sugar’ brought the set to a close in a simmering melting pot of Muscle Shoals soul, Chicago blues, Memphis rock n’ roll and British bite. But they didn’t play…
After a few anxious moments the band were back onstage for a second encore – another change for this tour – a local choir brought out for the anthemic ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, before – you guessed it – ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, one of rock’s most dumb, danceable and timeless guitar riffs vamped into an extended, ecstatic blues breakdown.
It’s always tempting to patronise aging rockers with phases like ‘they played like men half their age’, and the fact remains that 35 years ago the band sounded better than it does today. But where the rock was harder in the band’s ’70s heyday, late-Stones pay more attention to the roll. The slower pace brings out the best of Charlie Watts subtle around the beat flourishes, locked into a grooves with Darryl Jones (an infinitely funkier bassist than Bill Wyman), Keith’s guitar left space to swell and chime rather than stab and attack. Jagger’s vocals have clearly lost clarity with age, but he still trounces the stage throwing his body around like… well, a man half his age.
Yes, there were mistakes, negated notes and forgotten lyrics – Keith touchingly laughs at singing the line ‘am I losing my touch?’, after fluffing the line before – but The Stones’ were always lose and live, and all the more real and charming for it. It’s those uncharted moments – the ragged, raging outros of ‘Jack Flash’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, those chugging juggernauts of blissful improvised sound that threaten to fly off the rails at any moment, but skid into the station just behind schedule – when the band truly cooks. When it sounds, unmistakably, like The Rolling Stones.
The Middle Eastern debut of the world’s greatest – and oldest – rock band was a historic moment before Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie set foot on the stage. But the blistering, beautiful, blissful set they played did nothing to diminish the night’s legacy. But we just can’t help asking, when this tour wraps up on April 5 in Auckland, what next for The Rolling Stones? By Rob Garratt
Paul Van Dyk Event: Paul Van Dyk When: Thursday February 27
An expectant crowd greeted Paul Van Dyk when he took to the turntables not long after midnight. The German veteran DJ has always done things his own way and Thursday night was no execption. His set wasn’t about blowing away people’s eardrums with endless heavy bass lines and drops - what he did best was subtly fuse elements of trance – a live remix of hit ‘For an Angel’, a particular highlight – and progressive house flavours. No commercial-chart stuff here.
Eric Clapton Event: Eric Clapton live in Dubai When: Thursday March 06, 2014 Where: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre
Given Eric Clapton’s recent hints that 2014 will be his last year on the road, you’d be forgiven for expecting a greater sense of occasion when Slowhand took to the stage in Dubai. Or, in fact, even a sense of acknowledgement – aside from a few cursory ‘thank you’s, the guitarist seemed to do his utmost to avoid contact with the 14,000-strong Media City audience. We’re pretty certain he didn’t open his mouth to utter the two syllables of ‘Dubai’ once.
Still, this is a man known for music, and we’ll judge him on that alone. Not that there was any sense of occasion there, either. Opening with a somewhat lumbering take of 1989 single ‘Pretending’, a Jerry Lynn Williams cover, Clapton quickly showed he was in the mood for looking back. Leading a six-piece backing band, he trudged a deeper groove on extended blues vamps ‘Key to the Highway’ and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, but despite some unmistakable Clapton guitar work there was no escaping a certain malaise which seemed equally evident on the stage as it was in the stalls.
The mood was soon saved with a duo of Slowhand’s best-known numbers, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, both wringing out some of the 68-year-old’s most fluent playing – the former aching, restrained licks and inflections, the later climaxing with a fast and furious storm of blues bends.
While these glimmers of brilliance showed Clapton’s technical prowess to be undiminished – those controlled but emotive chops which have seen him ranked as the world’s best player after Hendrix – a five-song seated acoustic set exposed his voice to ravages of time. Tasteful readings of ‘Layla’ and ‘Tears in Heaven’ brought out a sea of cameraphones, iconic musical moments crystallised on demand for public consumption.
His signature Strat plugged back in, it was back to the blues to close, with Bo Diddley’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Cross Road Blues’ – the song he and Cream turned upside-down 46 years previously – cooking hotter than the earlier workouts. And then Clapton was gone, ending much as he began, with a forgettable cover – a one-song encore of Joe Cocker’s 'High Time We Went', Clapton not even bothering to approach the mic, instead leaving Mike + The Mechanics man Paul Carrack to take his third vocal of the night.
Eric Clapton’s reputation as a musical legend was secured in a haze of graffiti before his 23rd birthday, and it’s not a novel insight to say that despite some memorable ’70s singles, Slowhand has treaded little fresh ground for the past four decades. Yet the world’s most celebrated living guitarist has clearly earned the right to play whatever he wants, whenever he wants, whether that be retracing his roots and reviving the blues classics that first inspired him, or keeping his fans happy (and his wallet full) by reliving the hits. The problem is that Clapton is doing both, yet appears enthused by neither mode more than the other.
In light of the announcement he’ll quit touring at 70 – little more than 12 months away – it’s an easy angle to celebrate the night as one of a legend’s final live dates in exotic climes. But on the basis of this performance alone, there’s no escaping the feeling that this musical heavyweight is choosing to bow out with a whimper rather than a growl.
Carl Cox Event: Live @ Atlantis presents Carl Cox When: Friday March 21, 2014 Where: Atlantis Beach, The Palm
Live @ Atlantis put on a full show to welcome the legendary Carl Cox to town after a seven-year absence. He played one of his trademark massive sets that have been resonating internationally as he's risen in DJ rankings, with fast-paced, heavy techno house rocking the sand late into Friday night. Cox never ceases to amaze us with his ability to get a party going, which totally explains why he's remained in demand into his fifties. Thankfully Atlantis wasn't soul-crushingly packed to the max like previous beach parties.
Herbie Hancock Event: Abu Dhabi Festival Where: Emirates Palace When: Friday March 21, 2014
Herbie Hancock – the pioneering post-bop pianist who brought jazz to its technical apogee alongside Miles Davis, composer of many of the genre’s best-known standards, crossover star of funk, fusion and electronica, professor of poetry, ambassador for UNESCO, cultural treasure and general household name – arrived at the Abu Dhabi Festival with all the pop-influenced ceremony of the icon he’s become, each member of the band taking to the stage one-by-one, conjuring a thick funk groove before Hancock had even appeared.
Launching into a stunning version of ‘Actual Proof’, the pianist darting between electric and acoustic pianos with a childlike enthusiasm and intense focus, Herbie and his band summoned the tight funk and technical prowess present on the 1974 Thrust original. The groove got deeper still with stalwart ‘Watermelon Man’, the original 1962 bop hit here fed through a 1972 recasting from funk-crossover forbearer Headhunters, still the world’s second best-selling jazz LP to date.
Next it was time for the evening’s special guest. Emirati pop singer Hamdan Al-Abri, described by Hancock as a ‘really talented boy’, joined the band for a once-in-a-lifetime gig opposite a genuine musical legend. If he looked nervous taking to the stage, the minute he opened his mouth he owned it, giving a straight and soulful reading of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ – a tune sung by James Morrison on Hancock’s last LP The Imagine Project (2010).
More oblique was ‘Come Running to Me’, from 1978’s Sunlight, a smouldering disco-funk groove with Herbie singing through a vocoder, surprisingly undated and a timely reminder of just how much Daft Punk have lifted outright from the past. The set came to an astounding climax – a simmering tornado of syncopated rhythms and cascading notes – with extended closer ‘Cantaloupe Island’, exactly 50 years since its release on Blue Note classic Empyrean Isles. Like the rest of Hancock’s best-known themes, tonight the tune’s bare chord cycle acted as little more than a launching pad for stratospheric group improvisations of the highest scale – a bona fide freakshow of music talent.
The sheer intuitiveness of this band is staggering. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta – described by Hancock as ‘the king of drums’, a veteran of Frank Zappa, Sting and Joni Mitchell – appeared on another plane of consciousness with his endless outpouring of polyrhythmic complexities, locked into (and around) the groove with bassist James Genus, who danced between huge booming notes with the agility of a giant hopping between islands. Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke’s incredible dexterity, unheard technical approach and knowledge of African folk forms and jazz harmony alike deserve a review all of their own, but bereft of words we’ll leave it to Hancock to introduce him: ‘Nobody plays guitar like him... nobody.’ By the end of the set, few would disagree.
Striding back onstage strapped to his keytar for an encore, Hancock ticked off the hits with a cursory run through the head of 1983 jazz-hip-hop smash ‘Rockit’ (the best-selling ‘jazz’ single ever, if that’s not a tautology), before grooving into Headhunters’ centrepiece ‘Chameleon’, here treated as a little more than a framework for more outrageously silly but effortlessly executed keytar pyrotechnics.
With a figure of Hancock’s stature there’s a tendency to forgive one’s missteps and wear rose-tinted spectacles when viewing their less successful artistic endeavours. Yet it’s worth remembering that an imitable technical knowledge doesn’t make one immune to missteps of taste.
All that keytar strutting might have served the purists a slightly watery soup, but let’s remember Hancock is that aforementioned cultural icon who has both redefined jazz and topped charts, and been embraced as a household name by many who might never step near a jazz club. Cannily, Hancock offer a welcome balance, pleasing the demands of his reputation to both the caustic and the casual – and the demands of his own restless spirit as an artist and an explorer who still clearly gets a great naive joy from gadgets, gear and music.
Whether you prefer the pop covers of Possibilities or the post-bop of VSOP, Hancock is ploughing forward in a way that pays great tribute to his past, but in its evolutions and transformations has shaken off the dusty air of decades-old tribute. Matters of taste – keytar or no keytar? – are of little consequence in face of the sheer musical talent and invention this man brings to the party. Hancock, and each of the members of his band, are among the best musicians you are likely to see anywhere on the planet, and certainly in the UAE, and both this gig and the continued artistic existence of this man should be celebrated as a triumph.
Regine and Ogie Event: Regine Velasquez-Alcasid and Ogie Alcasid When: Thursday March 27, 2014 Where: Emirates Golf Club, Emirates Hills
Two of the Philippines’ best known stars – a husband and wife duo – thrilled fans in Dubai.
J.Lo Event: J.Lo at Dubai World Cup When: Saturday March 29, 2014 Where: Meydan
This year’s big winner in the 19th Dubai World Cup was His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Goldolphin, with Brazilian jockey Silvestre de Sousa and his horse African Story riding to victory in the US$10m race. Competition was also fierce among spectators, who competed valiantly in the style stakes in a bid to win the day’s best dressed titles, while American pop artist J-Lo rounded off a thrilling day out with a mesmerizingly energetic performance.
Lionel Richie Event: Lionel Richie When: Thursday April 17, 2014 Where: Dubai Media City Amphitheatre
The 64-year-old soul singer promised the crowds at Dubai Media City ‘all the hits, all night long’, and he delivered. Getting the crowd warmed up, he opened the gig with his 2004 single ‘Just For You’, showing instantly that he’s still got the voice and energy that made his career. Joined on stage by his band, who brought verve and great solos to up-tempo numbers, Richie worked through the hits including ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ and the song the crowds had been waiting for – ‘All Night Long’. An audience of all ages sang and waved their hands, and Richie’s encore, ‘We Are The World’, a song he wrote with Michael Jackson, threatened to bring the house down.
Sarah Geronimo Event: Sarah Geronimo live in Abu Dhabi Where: du Forum, Yas Island When: Thursday April 24, 2014
The Filipino starlet’s performance will go down as a highlight of the year for many expats.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in Abu Dhabi Event: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in Abu Dhabi Where: du Arena, Yas Island When: April 25, 2014
In what was an explosive night, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Rick Ross, Wiley and surpise guest Skepta took to the Du stage in spectacular style.
Blended Event: Blended festival When: Thursday 1-Friday 2 Where: Dubai Media City Ampitheatre
There were too many highlights to list – Aloe Blacc begging for a dollar, Elvis Costello’s assured cool and peerless songbook, Diana Krall’s tear-jerking cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, Maverick Sabre’s stripped-back acoustic rap, Xavier Rudd’s hypnotic rootsy deepness and Joss Stone’s immutable lungs... a huge success, it’s great to hear Blended will return in 2015.
Pet Shop Boys Event: Sandance When: Friday May 9, 2014 Where: Sandance Beach
The first Sandance of 2014 was always going to be under extra scrutiny, and we’re happy to report the May 9 event passed without problem. However there’s no denying that, despite offering NYE customers a 50 percent discount, this was a markedly quieter affair – the rear food village, and notable sponsors, conspicuous by their absence.
Arrested Development were a fantastic sundown treat, with vintage hits ‘Mr Wendal’ and ‘People Everyday’ sounding fresh and funky two decades on. Scouting for Girls’ seemed a little under-rehearsed as they bashed through their reductive brand of brainless guitar-pop, the trios’ grassroots baseness the antithesis of the Pet Shops Boys’ pretentious productions, their conceptual multimedia lightshow overwhelming the music with a setlist perhaps too scant on hits for a festival crowd. Local boys Hollaphonic made their Sandance debut before Fatboy Slim dropped the beach-rocking beats for which he’s built a career to a largely receptive dancefloor. As a comeback gig this was a logistical success, but whether the Sandance brand can grow back to reclaim its heyday glories remains to be seen.
Neil Finn Event: Neil Finn live When: Thursday May 15 2014 Where: Dubai Tennis Stadium
Wrapping up a ten week world tour in Dubai, Kiwi national treasure Neil Finn reached back over his inimitable four decade back catalogue to perform a spellbinding set, dipping into Crowded House classics and Split Endz curveballs alongside surprisingly vibrant material from this year’s solo effort, Dizzy Heights. Mixing Neil Young-esque guitar wig-outs with solo piano exorcisms, acoustic singalongs and amiable dad-humour, by the end of the evening the predominantly antipodean crowd was chanting in ecstatic union, Finn’s glowing reputation as a songwriter’s songwriter and consummate musician comfortably secured. Magnificent stuff.
Some 20 years after topping charts in the UK and around the world, Bpyzone turned back the clock for their Dubai Tennis Stadium gig. The crowd, largely made up of sweaty expats who looked like they had fans the first time around, was transported back to memories of school discos and college crushes with some nineties pop classic. On the week One Direction effortlessly sold 30,000 tickets this certainly wasn't the bigest crowd, but it was defintely one of the most engraged audiences we've enjoyed in a while dancing and singing from front to back and side to side.
Justin Timberlake Event: Justin Timberlake in Abu Dhabi Where: du Arena, Yas Island When: Friday May 23, 2014
Playing all his favourites, Justin, accompanied by his band the Tennessee Kids, delivered an unforgettable performance to a very sweaty audience.
Kings of Leaon Event: Kings of Leaon When: Wednesday May 28, 2014 Where: Atlantis Beach, The Palm
Much has changed in the Kings of Leon world since they last appeared on UAE shores. In 2009 they were at the peak of the rock/pop world. ‘Sex on Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’ were jamming airwaves across the globe. Two UK Brit Awards in March sealed their critical credentials.
Given what was to come, perhaps it’s unsurprising some audience members found the quartet’s October gig at the inaugural F1 underwhelming – two years later the band self-combusted, quitting halfway through a US tour amid a storm of infighting, indulgence and, at one performance in St Louis, bird faeces.
Starting a new leg of their Mechanical Bull tour in Dubai, if brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared (and cousin Mathew) Followill had anything to prove from a return visit, they didn’t make it immediately clear to the Atlantis audience.
Kicking off 30 minutes after their billed start time with recent single ‘Supersoaker’ – a fitting introduction for a sticky crowd in the desert heat – the descendants of grandfather Leon served up an engaging but unremarkable hour and a half set which ticked off all the hits, bases and contractual obligations, but did little to further the Kings’ chapter in the pantheon of rock – something which at this point, 15 years and six albums into their career, they should be fighting so hard to achieve.
On paper Kings of Leon should be the most exciting band in rock today. Their blend of hillbilly slang and urban bite, of groove and growl, of influences past and present makes them, on record at least, an intoxicatingly heady and, well, like, thoroughly cool proposition. The amazing back-story – sons of a preacher man, on the run with rock ’n’ roll – is classic musical mythmaking. Put simply, Kings of Leon are one of those rare bands that could, and should, conquer critics and fans alike.
However like much of their recent output the Kings’ Atlantis gig felt lacking in both conviction, and perhaps, content. There were flashes of brilliance – a frantic seven-minute segue as the plodding pedestrian punk of ‘Don’t Matter’ led into vintage stompers ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘Four Kicks’ was pure bottled rock ’n’ roll bliss. But sandwiched between slower and lamer material it felt more like a tribute to the raw, young and dumb quartet the band was a decade ago.
There were highlights. 2008 hit ‘On Call’ smouldered longingly, last single ‘Temple’ sounded perky and urgent, and radio anthem ‘Wait for Me’ stood out amongst an abundance of slow to mid-tempo tunes. While hardly verbose, frontman Caleb improved on his near-mute 2009 stage chat with unremarkable asides (it was hot, in case you missed it). But like the performance, it was difficult to find his engagement more than pleasantly perfunctory at times.
Leaving the stage with a reductively executed ‘Use Somebody’, the crowd was already bellowing prematurely for the super-hit ‘Sex on Fire’. The inevitable encore saw their wishes pacified.
‘He doesn’t even sing the words properly,’ I overheard one punter complain while Caleb made futile efforts to disguise his contempt for the hit-shaped beast he'd spawned.
‘He doesn't need to,’ I muttered in reply, turning from the stage to watch the thronging masses embrace in a fraternal unison for the inane refrain.
Leaving the stage for good little more than 90 minutes after they appeared, an MC’s booming voice declared the Kings of Leon the ‘best band we’ve had on this beach’. They’re certainly one of the biggest. But then biggest isn’t always best.
John Bishop Event: John Bishop When: Thursday May 29, 2014 Where: Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
One of the UK’s biggest comedians, Scouse funnyman Bishop debuted a shedload of new material on his Middle Eastern debut.
Ozzy Osbourne What: Black Sabbath Where: du Arena, Yas Island When: Thursday May 29, 2014
In February, The Rolling Stones proved men in their early ’70s could still serve up rock ’n’ roll which reeks of groove, swagger and bliss. Closing the Yas Arena gig season in late May, Black Sabbath proved men in their mid ’60s can still smash out heavy metal that sounds scary, huge, and technically masterful.
It’s a genre that gets a bad name, but if there’s a band worthy of exemption, it’s Black Sabbath. There was no such thing as heavy metal when they started – but mixing the hard rock of Led Zeppelin and Cream with a gloomy working class outlook and lyricist Geezer Butler’s fascination with HG Wells, they more or less invented it. The band’s first four albums, released in a magnificent run between 1970 and 1972, both defined the genre and stand apart from it as classics of any collection.
Things got a bit silly later on, after Ozzy Osbourne was fired in 1978. Which is why last year’s 13, the first album uniting Butler, Osbourne and guitar master Tony Iommi in 35 years, was a big deal. An even bigger deal, the fact that it was actually a thoroughly decent record, proving their musical menace and studio prowess undiminished.
The band’s Middle Eastern debut proved their live chops equally potent. Sabbath served up an incredible two-hour set, which lent heavily on the band’s heyday, alongside choice cuts from the new LP. Backed by virtuoso session drummer Tommy Clufetos, the reformed trio edged the set towards a single encore of hit ‘Paranoid’, the 8,500-strong crowd, many dressed in black, brought to a simmering moment of catharsis. With talk another new album could be in the works [www.timeoutdubai.com/knowledge/news/52306], we can only hope Ozzy’s onstage pledge of a return visit comes good.