Meydan on Friday saw a huge night of urban and dance music like Dubai has rarely seen before — a line up of Grammy winners and pure entertainers so strong that it didn’t matter that the previously announced Duffy didn’t make it (organisers say she missed her flight but is committed to a Dubai date in future).
She had felt a little out of place in the hip-hop-heavy line up, headed by 50 Cent, who spent the days before on a media blitz of the city, talking at a university and the Gitex tech fair.
When 50 Cent, aka Curtis Jackson III, arrived just after 1:30am, the tired but dedicated crowd had been dancing non-stop since 8pm, when the night’s first act, the quiff-headed Eva Simons took the stage, followed by Craig David, Ciara, Nelly, Skyblu of LMFAO and a foul-mouthed DJ Antoine.
The organisers of the event, Alchemy Project, packed the (at least) 16,000-strong crowd in a long section along the racing track, with a raised VIP section behind those crowded at the front of the stage, and a long swathe of younger fans in the general admission area stretching out behind that.
Meydan is a large and unusual venue, which in some ways worked — the seating gave those who fancied sitting down a fantastic view of the stage — and in some ways didn’t — a rethink of the parking facilities, or at least some signposts in the dark and mazelike parking lot, is needed — and before Alchemy’s next big night there, Snoop Dogg/Lion’s new year’s eve extravaganza.
The Dutch singer-songwriter warmed up the crowd with dancefloor hits Control and Is This Love (her hit with Will.i,am) in a sparkly, skintight catsuit with a feathered neck — which sounds outrageous but was still not enough to distract from that massive quiff. We hope they recycled the ten cans of Elnett she must have used.
He’s working on new music, and we really hope it’s going to bring back some more attention to his guy, whose smooth voice has been missed in the charts for a while. He paid tribute to his fans who had been with him “for the last 13-14 years” as he stole hearts with What’s Your Flavour, Fill Me In, Walking Awayand the song which made him famous, 7 Days.
“It’s beautiful to know I was 17 when I wrote that song. It shows the currency of music. An artist is only as good as the songs he writes or are written for him,” he said, serving the crowd up a serious slice of humble pie.
The hip-hop princess didn’t lipsynch — she sang, and with her whole body. The One-Two Step singer made an early appearance in the night but her set didn’t quite get the attention it deserved due to technical glitches with the video screens which meant the large crowd at the back missed some of her incredible dance moves.
Nonetheless she and her super-flat abs pushed on and finally caught the crowd’s attention with her Justin Timberlake-backed hit Love Sex Magic, clearly inspiring many to get up for pilates class the next day.
For this reporter, the St Louis rapper was the highlight of the evening — a consummate entertainer whose funny and honest stage presence couldn’t fail to get you dancing, whether you’re a hip-hop fan or were waiting for Duffy.
With his crew, the St Lunatics, on board, he engaged in the classic rap show repartee, putting the crowd to the test. “I wanna know who’s been with Nelly since the beginning,” he said. “Let’s give ‘em a test,” replied one of his crew before going into “Shimmy Shimmy”.
When the crowd (and the night’s security) failed to meet his standards, he didn’t hold back his criticism, and it was refreshing to see an artist demanding the respect he deserves from Dubai’s sometimes less-than-engaged crowd.
“What’s wrong with you right now?” he asked as the audience failed to sing along. “No, you can’t get no tickets to my concert.” To miss a Nelly concert would be a huge mistake — although you don’t necessarily go to the show to hear him sing the tracks in full — a curtailed Hot In Herre should have been played in full and its appropriateness exploited.
A highlight? Nelly wanted to invite two girls from the audience onstage, but was informed that was not permitted by security, and he would be fined for doing so. “You are gonna fine me? You need to tell me this stuff BEFORE,” he said, before going ahead and doing it anyway, the lucky girl getting a few seconds to walk the stage before being carted off by the inflexible security.
Skyblu of LMFAO
The long set that Skyblu — aka Skyler Austen Gordy — from the now defunct LMFAO (the uncle and nephew are amicably pursuing solo projects) performed was a surprise.
Yes, he has other songs apart from Party Rock and Sexy and I Know It, and they are eminently danceable, if indistinguishable. And we have him to thank for bringing on Schwayze, who performed the hot Love Is Overrated.
The less said about this DJ — who warmed the stage while 50 Cent’s roadies set it up for his set — the better. No-one comes to a hip-hop/urban show without expecting a good few curse words, but the “Welcome to St Tropez” DJ’s unrelenting insistence that the crowd “put your f***ing hands” in the air was childish, gratuitous and frankly, boring.
The only real let-down of the night — it would have been better to have put the fearlessly sexy dancing girls, who performed on platforms dotted around the crowd dressed alternately as peacocks and builders, back on the stage.
The headliner of the night, and probably the big draw for a large part of the audience (although it appeared another, younger section had exceeded their curfew and left before he came on) didn’t disappoint those who had followed his rise to stardom and knew his every lyric by heart.
Those who came hoping to hear In Da Club and Candy Shop weren’t disappointed either, with a wide-ranging one-and-a-half-hour set that took in classics like Many Men and a track off his upcoming album Street King Immortal (due November 13).
The banter with his G Unit crew wasn’t as engaging as Nelly’s, and 50’s stage presence is quieter, but rap shows are not about full renditions of hit tracks — it’s as much about playing games, the ego and the talk. We were reminded more than once that 50 Cent was NOT going to be playing any afterparties (Cash Club, a new club at Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel, had apparently advertised that he would, but “everything’s f***ed up,” the New York rapper said).
Not feeling a response from the crowd (and like Nelly, annoyed with the tough security, which tried to take a jacket he’d thrown into the crowd off the girl who caught it), the soft-spoken Jackson sighed. “I don’t know what to give you. Do you want something old or new? This is one of those moments when you sit and think, all you need is a hit record,” he said, launching into the awesome “Hate It Or Love It”.
New Year’s Eve at Meydan
Snoop Dogg/Lion is playing December 31 at Meydan at another Alchemy Project festival, but who are the other artists? Several names flashed up on the screens on Friday night, to screams from the audience, including Gorillaz, Stromae and the until-now split-up Faithless, who performed what was said to be their last concert ever at Atlantis last year. None of the names are 100 per cent confirmed at the time of going to press, but we’re told Faithless is very likely.