The UAE’s music fans are pretty psyched up for Lionel Richie’s debut concert in Dubai on April 17. But having spoken to the man himself, it sounds like the person most excited about Lionel Richie’s concert is Lionel Richie himself.
He’s got every right to be: Having been away from doing live shows in his home country of the US for years, the former Commodore is absolutely itching to get on stage and give his fans the best of the old, and the new.
“I cannot wait and I must tell you, I can now answer the question, because every time I am in Dubai or passing through Dubai, they always say, ‘when are you coming to play?’ and my answer is, I am coming now, you will see me there soon.
“After waiting so long, I don’t think of the word ‘nervous’,” he added in a late-night phone call from New York. “I think I’m the kid waiting to go downstairs to unwrap the presents on Christmas morning. You can’t sleep — that’s where I am. I can’t wait to get on stage because I have been away for so long.”
Richie’s rich repertoire — “we might be onstage for two and a half, three hours” — means you can expect a packed night at Media City Amphitheatre, although the Alabama-born star concedes it won’t always be his voice you’ll hear. “The performance is going to be the crowd. I have found that they know the songs better than I do,” he says, adding one of the many laughs that permeate our chat.
“So all I have to do is really start the songs off — I am almost embarrassed to say — but they sing louder than I do. And I keep telling the engineer, can you turn my mike up louder, because the crowd is singing louder than I do. It’s really a fine evening of karaoke. It’s an elaborate evening of karaoke, girl.”
You’re about to embark on one of your biggest tours in years. How are you feeling about getting back into the touring business?
I want to make it to the point where I can come back to Dubai, the American shores, every other year and make it exciting, because that’s what touring is all about. How many times do you fans really get a chance to see you in person?
You’re a fairly frequent visitor to our shores already. You were here at the Beach Polo last year…
I was at a polo match sweating to death. Everyone kept saying, Lionel, it’s just fabulous, and I was thinking, ‘is everyone dressed up sweating like I’m sweating?’ I was in just a shirt and I was sweating. One guy had on a suit and tie, and he was completely… oh my God… [laughs].
So are you prepared for the heat?
The concert is going to be out of control. I must admit, hopefully it will be a lot cooler, maybe, maybe not, but I gotta tell you, it’s going to be out of control, it’s going to be the best.
What to fans respond to most?
Guaranteed, when I say Hello — forget about it. And Say You, Say Me, and All Night Long. I can tell you without a doubt, even though those are three slow songs, they are the loudest songs in the show.
What about tracks from your latest album, 2012’s country-tinged Tuskagee?
We are actually going to do a little Sail On, yes we are. Are we gonna do a little Easy, [the Commodores track was reworked with Willie Nelson on Tuskegee], yes we are. These songs will always be in the show because the crowd will not let me leave the stage unless I sing those songs. You are going to get a flavour across the board of The Commodores, the ’80s, the ’70s, the country versions of these things. We might be onstage for two and a half, three hours. It will be a evening that you will NOT forget.
CeeLo Green is joining you on the US tour. How did that come about?
That’s going to be so much fun, because what I was trying to find is a mixture. What I am finding with my audience now is we skew from 17 to 97, that’s the audience. So when they said, ‘who do you want to have on the show with you?’ I said let’s going down a couple of demographics, a couple of ages. This American tour is going to be too much fun.
We recently had the Rolling Stones perform in the UAE. You go way back together, right?
We were the opening act for the Rolling Stones back in the early ’70s. If you know anything about the Stones, you have to come on stage with a game face because their crowd wants to see the Stones. Back in the ’70s when we didn’t have all of those hit records, we had to survive for 45 minutes on stage, girl. Thank God today I can actually go out and play some songs. But back then, that was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life, to be able to walk out on that size stage and make it work.
When are we going to hear some new music from you?
Well how about as soon as I get off this line with you? That’s exactly where I am going. In other words once I finish this tour and prepare to go into the US tour, I want to have as much music in the can before I start the tour in the US. So that’s what I am doing right now. We are writing new music; prepare yourselves for the next wave of Lionel Richie.
Don’t miss it
Lionel Richie performs at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on April 17. Tickets to the 21+ show are Dh350 (regular standing), Dh450 (grandstand seating),
Dh600 (golden circle), Dh1,500 (VIP, inclusive of food and beverages). Doors open at 7pm.