Three years is a long time in the life of any artist – especially one just 28 years old. At Ellie Goulding’s last UAE visit, she appeared meek and weak, her confessional electro-pop too restrained for Sandance NYE’s party-ready crowd already counting down to midnight.
But returning to play Dubai Music Week on Thursday night, Goulding came equipped with bigger songs, a harder band, and buckets more onstage dynamism.
And crucially, this time she was the main event; unlike the other two headliners – Jason Derulo on Wednesday and Thirty Seconds to Mars on Friday – Goulding even insisted on no local support act.
Not that we left waiting in silence – appearing onstage bang-on the scheduled start time of 9pm, Goulding’s newfound edge was the epitome of polished pop.
Too often, the greatest criticism of UAE concertgoers is that they don’t pay enough attention, happy to chat noisily until a song they recognise. For artists, used to playing to hardcore fans who fought online for tickets months earlier, it’s a shock. Indeed the MD of promoters Live Nation, James Craven, told us before the gig that 50 percent of UAE ticket sales typically come in the final three days before an event – casuals with nothing better to do, one presumes.
Which is why the outpouring of emotion which met Goulding was a joy to behold – after just a few songs, the crowd were chanting the singer’s first name in their thousands. And it wasn’t the only time, too.
Goulding, for her part, seemed genuinely touched – perhaps relieved after her last UAE gig experience. “I do a lot of shows, perhaps 1,000 in the last 100 days – if that’s possible,” she tells the rapt audience, “and it really makes a difference when you’re performing to people who are really engaged.”
An engaged crowd? In Dubai? Blimey.
As a reward, Goulding played a decent cover of Elton John’s Your Song, backed by a solo piano, a moment of calm amid her otherwise ceaseless pop attack.
For most, it was about the big sing-alongs – camera-phones came out for trudging anthem Anything Could Happen, while Calvin Harris collaboration I Need Your Love was a piece of trademarked hand-waving euphoria.
Wrapping the set with UK number one Burn, Goulding returned to encore with new single, the Ed Sheeran-baiting On My Mind. Believed to be the tune’s second live outing, it fell rather flat on the perhaps unfamiliar crowd.
No matter, Goulding had spare gas in the tank – her other number one, this year’s Fifty Shades soundtrack smash Love Me Like You Do, a satisfying sign-off for all concerned.
With more mutually beneficial collaborations on the cards, and third album Delirium set to drop in November, it may prove interesting to watch Goulding’s continual evolution from safe singer-songwriter to house-pop superstar. Here’s hoping she’ll be back to check in before another three years pass by.