Aussie singer Tina Arena keeps it classy at Cle Dubai

Tina Arena showcases her stunning vocals during a brief set at the new Dubai restaurant Cle Dubai.

The Australian singer-songwriter Tina Arena performs at Cle Dubai on January 22, 2015. Sarah Dea / The National
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After making a reputation for being the UAE’s premiere celebrity hot spot, the Middle Eastern fusion restaurant Clé Dubai organised an Australia Day celebration featuring the renowned singer Tina Arena.

Perhaps it’s best that the restaurant sticks to hosting celebrities, as the tube-shaped venue is simply not suited for concerts.

The Aussie singer had to make do on Thursday night with a makeshift stage positioned in a small nook of the restaurant, and considering her short stature, the show would have been almost impossible to witness for those at the back tables.

Ever the professional, however, Arena clearly recognised the issue and strolled around the restaurant as she serenaded the crowd with some of her biggest hits.

It may have only been a brisk set, but the 47-year-old demonstrated why she remains one of the classiest singers operating today. Backed by only a keyboardist, she sang her popular tracks with bare-boned arrangements — a treat as it allowed the crowd to appreciate her soprano vocals.

The opener Sorrento Moon was a gentle nod to the Aussie crowd, with the song describing a holiday home on the Melbourne coast.

It’s also a demonstration of why Arena is a songwriter from what is fast becoming another era. While the breezy 1994 song may be classified as pop, it sounds positively vintage due to a leisurely pace that allowed the notes to breathe without sacrificing any of the hooks.

Next up was Burn, another elegant ballad benefiting from the stripped-down arrangements. Arena's experience was evidenced in her restraint. In lesser hands, the lovelorn lyrics would have been belted out, thus robbing the song of its brooding intimacy.

It was Arena's biggest hit Chains that received the most reworking. Instead of reproducing the dramatic vocal fireworks of the 1994 track, Arena went on a different tip. The agony of the chorus was replaced with an almost angry grunt. The aggressive attitude throughout transformed what was a bit of a sappy power ballad into a blues song.

"This is the good thing about doing these small gigs," Arena explained backstage after concluding the set with the joyful Heaven Help My Heart.

“It gives me a chance to try new things. Also, as a songwriter most of these songs are created with just a piano. So if they don’t work in a performance such as this, then the songs are not good enough.”

While Arena admits her two-day UAE stopover was “quicker than what she would have liked” she managed to check out some of Dubai’s highlights.

“I went around the Jumeirah area and that was just beautiful,” she said. “Also, the architecture here is stunning. It seems as if there are no rules, but it all works together at the same time.”

“But generally what struck me about the UAE is that it is the real definition of melting pot and I love that. The country feels cohesive and it just shows how we can all learn from each other.”

Arena said her Dubai show was a way to plant the seeds for a bigger gig as part of her next world tour.

“Playing to new audiences is also part of what still keeps me excited about what I do,” she says. “I will be back.”