Set in the shell of the half-finished Ferrari World, the venue looked spectacular – more like a recreation of the Bladerunner backdrop than a concert venue. The sound, too, was surprisingly good, with any unwanted echo – the curse of vast aerodromes like this one – kept to a minimum. Only the dusty floor and outdoor heat proved difficult.
Beyonce took the stage 25 minutes late, by which point some of the audience had started to turn nasty. Loud boos filled the front of the arena, and, to the side of this reviewer, the heat overwhelmed a couple of fainters and a small fight erupted. Not the kind of atmosphere you might expect at a family-friendly pop concert, but almost understandable after an hour and a half packed in like sweaty sardines.
The fickle crowd forgave and forgot as soon as Beyonce appeared onstage, however, statuesque in a gold lame bodysuit, threatening a wardrobe malfunction with every bump and grind. You’ve probably seen it already on Youtube – the 40,000-strong audience raised and pointed their cameras in unison as soon as the lights dimmed. Time Out ended up watching the opening song on our neighbour’s viewfinder.
With her recent performance in Malaysia apparently cancelled due to religious pressure, many in the Abu Dhabi crowd wondered whether she’d adapt her raunchy show for the UAE. But a Beyonce show wouldn’t be complete without a bit of slap and tickle. Behinds were wielded and pinched throughout the performance, and at one point – dressed in a rather preposterous wedding gown – the singer launched into ‘Ave Maria’, seemingly unconcerned about offending any of the audience. Not that they seemed to care either way. Predictably, the bar filled up during the slower numbers, while other people looked over the pics they’d snapped earlier.
Ultimately, a Beyonce concert is all about the R’n’B funk that she has built her career on, and the hits ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It’ got the crowd going. The singer herself put in a kilo-busting performance that amazed as much as it shocked, but the biggest cheer of the night was saved for mid-paced rocker, ‘If I Were a Boy’.
Despite the strength of the performance, the crowd began to thin early, many of them concerned about getting back home. The shuttle buses filled quickly while the singer still had several songs left in the bag.
Abu Dhabi audiences like their creature comforts, and while the singer worked her behind off onstage, two and a half hours in the dust and heat with a difficult journey home ahead ultimately proved too much for many of her fans.