Live review: Toto and James perform nostalgic sets at the Dubai Jazz Festival

No one could ever accuse the Dubai Jazz Festival of gambling recklessly in the dark. Promoters Chill Out have a penchant for making sensible return bookings — and 2016 could be their tidiest business bet yet. All three nights boast a tried and tested repeat visitor; Friday’s closing attraction Santana also rounded out the 2014 […]

No one could ever accuse the Dubai Jazz Festival of gambling recklessly in the dark. Promoters Chill Out have a penchant for making sensible return bookings — and 2016 could be their tidiest business bet yet. All three nights boast a tried and tested repeat visitor; Friday’s closing attraction Santana also rounded out the 2014 festival, while Thursday’s co-headliner Sting played the same stage, at the same festival, exactly 364 days ago.

Which makes opening Wednesday (February 24) night headliners Toto — who last appeared at the fest way back in the halcyon days of 2007 — the equivalent of young, vibrant, fresh blood. Indeed, acknowledging the high turnover of Dubai’s expat population, we could certainly assume most of the Media City audience were first timers looking forward to some exciting new sounds.

In the interim nine years, Toto have split up, seen bandmates pass away and — even — released a new album, 2013’s Toto XIV. But one can be sure the setlist high-points have changed little since the band’s last visit — the largely casual crowd embraced vintage 1982 hits Rosanna and the inevitable encore Africa, but reacted largely indifferently to much else. The sprawling, two-hour set struggled to contain the bloated material of a band whose musical ambitions perhaps always outweighed their execution — strutting hair metal bangers, earnest balladry and proggy soul-pop excursions make wary bedfellows live.

As any vintage rocker knows, time is a decidedly cruel beast. Which leads us nicely to support act James. It might seem strikingly unfair that, say, the recent reunion of Ride was greeted with a fuzzy, warm, critical embrace, while fellow baggy-era Mancunians, James, have been largely relegated to the nostalgia pile, somewhere between Dodgy and Cast. But then Ride weren’t asked to play the festival — and they didn’t write Sit Down.

Those two facts are clearly linked. Even today in the UK, that career-defining 1989 chart hit has the power to induce fields of tom-fooling festival goers to slouch on the floor. When Sit Down was performed mid-set in Dubai, we didn’t spot anyone move a muscle.

“We’re Toto,” announced one member of James between songs, a misplaced joke which only served to lay bare the band’s flapping antagonism to an agnostic crowd. And who could blame them? Much like Toto, James simply didn’t have enough hits to litter a square festival hour, and the band’s new material (“this song is about my mother dying,” said frontman Tim Booth of the set’s second track) did little to endear the floating voter.

A lack of hits is not an accusation you could level at opening act Postmodern Jukebox. This US born, self-dubbed “YouTube Sensation” have made their name posting radically reworked, jazz-flavoured video covers of popular hits. So here we had a honky tonk reading of Sweet Child O’ Mine, a hillbilly hoe down on Bad Romance and, best of all, a swaggering blues to All About That Bass.

“PMJ” are essentially a one-trick pony perfectly suited to the digital age — stumble upon any one of their dozens of covers online and it’s a kooky click, share or swipe. But stacked in a row this circus act starts to grate — it’s a little like watching a magician repeat the same card trick, over and over and over again.

The Dubai Jazz Festival continues on February 25 and 26. For details go to www.dubaijazzfest.com

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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