Few people could easily top the announcement of a Coldplay concert. Lionel Richie is definitely one of them.
His performance at the du Arena as part of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday came a few minutes after a surprise for the audience — a big screen flashed the news that British band Coldplay would play the same venue on December 31. But this born entertainer showed no concern of being upstaged as he took the stage in a red military-style jacket.
The crowd — which in previous years has seen the likes of Paul McCartney, Eminem and Kylie Minogue perform at Yasalam, the series of concerts that goes hand-in-hand with the F1 race — were wild for him in a way this Yasalam veteran hadn’t anticipated. I’d say it has something to do with the warmth and joy that radiates from the singer-songwriter; at one point I did feel I was part of a particularly happy church meeting.
Not only does Richie sing — and beautifully, at that — he also dances, dad-like moves that Drake could have stolen for his Hotling Bling video. (Speaking of Drake: His touted appearance at VIP Room’s F1 pop-up on Yas Island hadn’t happened by the time we left at 4.15am. When he says Thank Me Later, now we know what he means.)
Richie, 67, is an entertainment veteran, and played on that for a little skit he did to introduce the younger members of the crowd to three of his songs, saying there are three sections to the crowd — the people who know him from The Commodores; those that know him from All Night Long, his solo work; and the others who “don’t have a damn clue what the hell is going on”. Ah Millennials, always getting it in the neck. For their benefit, he performed excerpts showcasing how his music has helped people in — and out — of love. It built up to a rousing Stuck On You, but not before he drew big laughs about listening to music on vinyl albums and cassettes. He has a Vegas residency, and it shows — he’s not doing a concert, this is a full entertainment spectacle.
One millennial in the crowd who was without a doubt loving Richie’s show was 28-year-old British princess Beatrice of York, who hung out in the Golden Circle area with friends and a security detail — including a local female bodyguard, a la Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. She took selfies, danced around, and apparently loved Three Times A Lady — as did everyone else.
This reporter was disappointed that we didn’t get a full version of Endless Love — couldn’t Rihanna (performing on Sunday) have done Diana Ross’ part? (We can dream, can’t we?) As it was, Richie got the crowd to fill in the female vocals on the ballad. In an interview with Gulf News tabloid! Richie had promised hits galore, and that’s exactly what he delivered in the one hour-plus show, giving us All Night Long, Dancing On The Ceiling and the charity song he wrote with Michael Jackson, We Are The World, which is still stuck in my head as I write this. From his Commodores days, there was Brick House; but not everything was get-up-and-dance fantastic: 1986’s Ballerina Girl felt a bit flat in the setlist.