Saturday, December 14, 2019
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Review: RedFestDXB

After watching Conor Maynard make his UAE debut at RedFestDXB, it’s easy to see why he told me earlier this month that he doesn’t consider himself the next Justin Timberlake or the next Justin Bieber. On stage at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Thursday night, he set himself apart in more than one way as a male solo artist.

Firstly, the 21-year-old’s stage set-up was stripped down and fairly casual. It was just Maynard and his hypeman on stage, with a massive black-and-white portrait of him looking off to the side and pointing upwards projected as a backdrop. He went for comfort over style, clad in an unbuttoned plaid shirt, a white t-shirt underneath, black denim “jorts” — that’s jean shorts, and for Maynard, it meant a lot of pale skin on display — and blue sneakers. There was no elaborate theme, no flashy costume changes, no headset microphones to allow for learned choreography with a host of back-up dancers.

But nothing about the minimalism of his show proved disappointing — if anything, it allowed the audience to gauge exactly what Maynard brings to a table as a performer, and, I can now confidently say, he brings quite a bit.He fired off his show with the gritty track Animal (the studio version features Wiley) and there was no looking back in terms of energy and commitment. Maynard performs his songs like he’s his own biggest fan, backing them up with endless vigour and never once pausing his movements on stage — whether he’s jumping, whipping out his club-ready dance moves or, well, rolling his body in what can only be described as a suggestive manner.

As the first main act of the night, his set only lasted around 40 minutes, but he managed to pack it full of radio hits from his first and only album, Contrast. This included his first ever mega hit Vegas Girl, a live version of Can’t Say No that sampled beats from Drop It Like Its Hot, and his synth-pop hit with Ne-Yo, Turn Around.

Two highlights of the show both included Pharrell Williams in some way, shape or form — is anyone surprised? The first was in a heartfelt performance of Glass Girl, a slowed-down song that Williams produced. The track allowed Maynard to show off the nuances of his vocal range, which is one of his biggest sells as a live performer. The second was a cover of Williams’ radio sensation Happy.

Maynard, despite only having one album under his belt, proved himself a worthy contender in the world of pop rock on Wednesday night, and with his new album promising to be even bolder and more out-of-the-box, he’s one to keep an eye on — both on and off the stage.

Some people hit the stage running, but as the second act on Thursday night, , Tinie Tempah hit the stage spinning.It was impossible not be infected by the hip-hop artist’s eagerness as soon as he was in sight, jumping in circles as the first notes of his song Frisky hit the air. I could almost picture him buzzing sidestage beforehand, waiting for the moment he could burst into action. And as far as following-up his high-energy entrance with more of the same, Tempah didn’t let the crowd down.Wearing sunglasses, an oversized white tank, a denim jacket (that he shed within a few songs) and rolled-up olive green shorts, the singer was predictably stylish. He performed a slew of hits, including the current radio favourite Lover Not A Fighter, Trampoline, a first-ever live performance of rave track Tsunami (Jump), and Miami to Ibiza (a chant of “Dubai to Ibiza!” preceded). During Children of the Sun and Written in the Stars, Tempah was visibly moved, and couldn’t stop smiling, when the music dropped out and the crowd filled in with a united singalong

Just as Maynard earlierit was only him and his DJ on stage providing beats, albeit with too much snare drum, at times — I could feel my whole body vibrating throughout the set. But Tempah’s DJ, Charlsey, proved to be the unbilled star of the show, just as integral and unforgettable as the singer himself. The best moments were when Charlsey came out from behind the decks and riffed off of Tempah. It was their first show of the year together, which might explain their unbridled passion. The two of them were so in sync that they almost seemed like one performer in two bodies, finishing off each other’s hooks and dancing around one another seamlessly on stage, matching grins on their faces that seemed to say there was nowhere else they would rather be. At times, I felt like I was in a garage watching two of my friends spit their best rhymes just for the fun of it, a rare vibe for a festival performance. The only hindrance was the flashing strobe light that had us shielding our eyes for fear of being sick.

After an awed Tempah took a photo with the crowd for his Instagram — “I need a picture with them! It’s too good! I would tag you all, but Instagram might explode” — he gave everyone exactly what they wanted, which was an extended and utterly satisfying performance of his biggest hit, Pass Out, that ended his performance on the perfect note.

As Jessie J took the stage for her headlining RedFestDXB set, I don’t think even she could have predicted the inspiring and electric way the night unfolded.The singer, dressed in a three-piece red ensemble, started off with a slightly overperformed rendition of her song Thunder. She shed her sheer and sparkling robe once she launched into Sexy Lady — her microphone stand was sparkling, too, and her microphone itself had a golden head — and revealed a Gwen Stefani-esque two-piece outfit that showed off the upper-half of her midriff and, due to slits in the sides of her billowing pants, the entirety of her legs.

But what she was wearing was a minor detail. It was her voice that made the crowd stop in its tracks.

Jessie’s control over her powerful range translated seamlessly into her live performance, startling in its intensity. Backed by two vocalists, a drummer, bassist and guitarist, her sound oscillated between club-appropriate and timeless, impossible to get distracted from — though there was one brief interruption when her in-ears failed, forcing her to re-start Domino twice.At one point, there was a shift in energy in the amphitheatre. Esther Eden Fernandes, a 16-year-old girl who impressed Jessie earlier during the singer’s visit to Al Diyafah High School was brought onto stage to perform an original song for us while Jessie stood sidestage as an observer. The crowd roared supportively, happy to champion a budding talent in the city.Then, came an emotional admission from Jessie that she’s in “a very weird place” where she’s doubting her ability to perform.

“I feel like I can be honest with you all, because I never joined this industry wanting to be this weird definition of perfection,” she said before launching into her track, Nobody’s Perfect. Midway through, she climbed down from the stage and gave the microphone to a young, red-headed girl, with a voice that astonished us all, who finished the song. Jessie high-fived her after as the girl broke down into tears.Finally, she brought up Waseem and Farida, two dancers she’d spotted in the crowd to do a breakdance routine while she sang and even had them teach her a move at the end of the song. “If it’s gonna be that kind of show, might as well keep it going,” she said. “You’re the most inspiring crowd I’ve had in a long time.” The singer, who performed hits such as Do it Like a Dude and Magnetic for the first time in Dubai, didn’t waste time dashing off stage before her encore, launching straight into Price Tag and finally, an apt closer for the self-affirming set, It’s My Party.