Nile Rodgers and Chic rule Masterjam

This probably was one of the best NYE concerts, ever. And most of the thanks can go to a single man – Nile Rodgers.

Nile Rodgers stole the show at the NYE Masterjam concert, held at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.  Satish Kumar / The National
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With so many artists of similar era and style ringing in New Year’s Eve at Masterjam in Dubai, you might expect more than a hint of competition in the air. Would seventies disco giants Chic outgun sixties veterans The Jacksons? Would Jocelyn Brown’s bellow barrelhouse Chaka Khan? Or Kathy Sledge outshine Gloria Gaynor?

In a word – yes, no, just about.

But first a word on the punters – it’s 2015, and disco is alive and well in the UAE. It was both amusing and ridiculous to spot the number of festivalgoers who attended this NYE disco celebration at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre wearing garish shirts, flared trousers and silly wigs.

And while I turned up in a plain T-shirt, it would be no exaggeration to say this was my most successful New Year’s Eve in memory. Most of the thanks can go to a single man – Nile Rodgers.

Occupying the crucial pre-midnight slot, Rodgers and his band Chic served up a phenomenal run of floor-filling hits. Today, the guitarist-producer mastermind ploughs the lengthy back catalogue of tunes he produced, wrote or played on for other people.

“Four years ago I was diagnosed with cancer,” Nile told the crowd. “As of today I’m cancer free, and because I’m so lucky to be alive, I’m going to walk you through my life in music.”

What followed was an incredible musical onslaught including Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out and Upside Down, Sister Sledge's Greatest Dancer and We are Family, Madonna's Like a Virgin, Duran Duran's Notorious, David Bowie's Let's Dance and – most surprisingly – Daft Punk's Get Lucky, a tune Rodgers once promised not to perform without the French electro duo present.

"We have four minutes and 46 seconds until midnight – we might have to stop this song and play it again," said Rogers before launching into infectious earworm Le Freak. Before the clock struck 12 the stage was filled with all the other famous faces, turning out for a group NYE countdown, after which Rogers whipped out the greatest Chic song of all – Good Times.

And who were those famous faces? Most memorable by far was Chaka Khan. Backed by the incredible UK funk group Incognito, the 61-year-old riffed through a bulging back catalogue of hits including Ain't Nobody and I'm Every Woman. "You can't get blood from a turnip," she crowed like a diva when the audience reaction didn't meet her satisfaction.

Earlier in the evening Kathy Sledge, one quarter of Sister Sledge, put on a convincing set. However, notably all the highs – Lost in Music, We are Family, He's the Greatest Dancer – were Rodgers productions performed again later in the evening – and in far funkier settings – by Chic. It would have been nice to see the pair collaborate on stage.

Before this, also backed by the house band, Gloria Gaynor stopped by for a fleeting 15-minute set, most of which was devoted to an extended vamp of her one anthem, I Will Survive. It's a shame more of the crowd didn't turn up earlier to hear Jocelyn Brown, also backed by the slyly dexterous Incognito.

And now we must turn our attention to The Jacksons. On the one hand, it's utterly captivating that four of Michael's brothers, all well into their sixties, are still rocking The Jackson 5 songbook. On the other, it's surprising that they think nothing of plundering the King of Pop's legacy for their own gain. It was a party, and we wanted to hear ABC and Blame it on the Boogie – both dispensed early in a medley. But covering MJ's tunes such as Rock With You and Beat It, and beaming photo montages of the late singer's life and times on a big screen backdrop, just felt tasteless.

Still, this was a memorable bill, the kind you’d beg and borrow for – and easily my best NYE on record.

rgarratt@thenational.ae