And all that... jazz?

Rob Gar­ratt

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page -

From a laid-back show by Tom Jones to a pre­dictably diva-es­que per­for­mance by Mariah Carey, gives his ver­dict on the Dubai Jazz Fes­ti­val’s first two nights

“It’s New Year’s Eve all over again... but the real way we should have cel­e­brated,” said Mariah Carey as she launched into Emo­tions at Dubai Jazz Fes­ti­val – tack­ling the ele­phant in the room head-on. Thurs­day’s con­cert was Carey’s first pub­lic gig since that much- re­ported, tele­vised “melt­down” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, in which she em­bar­rass­ingly strug­gled through the same song, and was later re­vealed to be lip-synch­ing.

Carey’s voice, the world’s me­dia de­clared, was toast.

One felt the relieved swag­ger of a sportsper­son scor­ing a goal as Carey blazed com­fort­ably into the up­per-reg­is­ters of Emo­tions’s no­to­ri­ous vo­cal gym­nas­tics.

Next came the other song she fluffed on De­cem­ber 31 – We Be­long To­gether. The sub­text was clear: Don’t write me off just yet. This one- off fes­ti­val date, at Dubai Me­dia City Am­phithe­atre, be­fore a full United States tour in March might have seemed like a safe place for the con­tro­versy- plagued star to warm-up away from the crit­i­cal spot­light in the United States. In any case, there was no melt­down, no ob­vi­ous fluffed lyrics or vo­cal shrap­nel.

There was, how­ever, plenty of Carey’s trade­mark diva an­tics – with rarely a break pass­ing be­tween songs with­out some kind of histri­onic de­mand or re­mark.

On­stage for just shy of 80 min­utes – mi­nus a lengthy cos­tume change – Carey found time to pick on a raft of bug­bears the evening pre­sented, in­clud­ing not hav­ing a mic stand, or later a stool, pre­sented on queue – “I didn’t say I wanted one, but...”, she said.

She also picked on au­di­ence mem­bers smok­ing – twice. “Some­body’s smok­ing? Who’s try­ing to foil me? Why do you need to do it?” she de­manded to know. “Just a thought – maybe you want to put the cig­a­rettes out.”

And when Carey’s vi­tal vo­cal throat spray failed to ar­rive on click, she coaxed the au­di­ence into chant­ing “give her her spray”. I lost count of the num­ber of times Carey loudly re­treated to the back of the stage to take “a splash” of re­fresh­ment.

This, then, was Carey in all her diva-ish glory, a proud re­minder of the days when pop stars had per­son­al­i­ties – and still sold records. Her back cat­a­logue is brim­ming with no fewer than 18 US Bill­board No. 1 sin­gles – a record topped only by The Bea­tles – but many of these were side­lined in a set over­flow­ing with decade-de­fy­ing hits.

Crowd favourites in­cluded the retro swing of Al­ways Be My Baby and Vi­sion of Love, her de­but sin­gle from 1990. She wrapped the show just af­ter mid­night with the an­them Hero. There was no encore, and Carey no­tably did not find time to in­clude the ul­ti­mate teary sin­ga­long – and ar­guably most la­bo­ri­ous vo­cal work­out – With­out You.

That aside, all other ev­i­dence sug­gests the NYE scare was just that. Carey is as ec­cen­tric, inim­itable and im­mutable as ever – and her sear­ing, prized voice re­mains in fine health.

The fes­ti­val be­gan a day ear­lier with a head­line slot from Tom Jones, who re­mains on the road at a re­mark­able 76- years- old. One de­tected a whiff of cir­cus show won­der from the au­di­ence, gath­ered there to see whether he could still de­liver the goods. It would be con­de­scend­ing to de­clare Jones has still “got it”. But he does boast a mix of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and charisma that per­haps only five decades of tour­ing and per­form­ing can breed. And while there was some slight ev­i­dence of strain, Jones’s voice man­aged ev­ery­thing he asked of it.

Leap­ing the decades and oc­taves alike, this was an evening of hits and misses – and often the twee vintage chart “hits” felt pale next to more re­cent, rawer ma­te­rial more suited to Jones’s ma­tured vo­cal style. Backed by just gui­tar and drums, White Stripes- style, Jones be­gan con­vinc­ingly with two gutsy blues vamps – John Lee Hooker’s Burn­ing Hell and gospel tra­di­tional Run On – both of which he cov­ered on 2010’s Praise & Blame.

Reach­ing back to his 1960s hey­day, Jones ap­peared aware of his own quaint anachro­nism, grin­ning with seem­ing wild irony dur­ing the dated, dis­pos­able pop What’s New Pussy­cat. While It’s Not Un­usual was sen­si­bly played rel­a­tively straight, Delilah was given a rock­ing, rad­i­cal re­work­ing – a hint of mari­achi emerg­ing af­ter a spacey, surf-gui­tar in­tro.

For all the vintage swag­ger and spec­ta­cle, Jones’s weath­ered grav­i­tas weighed heav­i­est when he di­alled things back down with a con­fes­sional cover of the late Leonard Co­hen’s Tower of Song. First put on record by Jones in 2012, a quar­ter-cen­tury af­ter its com­po­si­tion, the song sounds like it could have been writ­ten for the age­ing singer.

“Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play... I’m just pay­ing my rent ev­ery day in the Tower of Song,” he sings. “I was born like this, I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”

rgar­ratt@then­ational.ae

Vic­tor Besa for The Na­tional

Tom Jones, and Mariah Carey, be­low, per­formed on the first two nights of Dubai Jazz Fes­ti­val.

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