On paper, the weekend was a triumph before it had even started - two of the world’s biggest acts playing back-to-back in the UAE capital, attracting thousands of fans from across the Emirates.
The weekend got off to a bumpy start. The wind whipped up a minor sandstorm in the dusty carpark at Emirates Palace and dumped its contents all over the bemused guests, many of whom had turned up in their opera finest. When the announcement came that the maestro would be onstage late, minor sandstorm threatened to turn into minor mutiny.
Andrea Bocelli is an odd tin of sardines. Like a classical Robbie Williams, you get the feeling he’d like to be a lot grander than he actually is. Certainly, he can cough up a better Rigoletto than you or I, and lesser men would blush at those high notes, but – as he proved in the second half on Friday night – his voice is better suited to Italian easy listening, or the Lloyd-Weber-esque ‘Time to Say Goodbye’, rather than the assault on opera’s greatest arias that he staged in the first.
For his final trick, he dribbled ‘Nessum Dorma’ down the centre of the park, showing occasional flair, before knocking a well-intended effort someway off target. Old twinkle-toes Pavarotti, should you need reminding, finished a similar move in considered style some twenty years earlier. Ending your gig with a weak version of someone else’s signature piece is, perhaps, not the best idea. Admitting that you haven’t bothered to learn any Arabic, despite your astronomical fee, smacks of arrogance.
No such language difficulties with Coldplay, whose eager-to-please front man Chris Martin must have swallowed a local dictionary. Once again, the elements voiced their disapproval in spectacular fashion – the primordial stew that had been brewing throughout Saturday finally giving way to a vast and furious electrical storm an hour before show time. It paused briefly to allow Mercury Rev their chance to mimic Flaming Lips, beginning again with renewed vigour during the headliners’ mesmeric rendition of smash hit ‘Yellow’. Never have 15,000 people looked so happy in the rain. Love him or hate him, Martin is a compelling frontman, and the unassuming young Brit managed to summon forth a devilish alter ego, pulling the gig back from the brink of being a literal washout.
If it hadn’t been for the large balls of water seemingly hurled from the sky, we’d have taken our hats off to Coldplay. On and on they played, interspersing their hit-ridden set with a cheery rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’; amazed and delighted to be a part of the atmospheric irony. The occasion marked a triumphant close to both their world tour and one of the most surreal Abu Dhabi weekends in living memory.