Sometimes, supporting slots work in building a band’s reputation. Eight months or so after impressing the huge crowd when they opened for The Who at last November’s Abu Dhabi Formula One after-race race concert, The Wanton Bishops returned for their own headline performance on Friday night as part of the launch of The Other Side, a new bi-monthly live-music series.
The hard work payed off, with a sold-out crowd crammed into the dimly lit The And Lounge at Dubai Marina – including some balanced on top of tables to see the stage, yours truly included.
While describing the duo – beefed up into a four-piece live – as The Lebanese Black Keys is a catchy, and convenient slogan used by some in the media, it's also lazy and not entirely accurate, as the band's blistering set clearly showed them working from a wider palette. Bad Liver and a Broken Heart packs a southern-rock stomp that The Black Crows would have been proud of.
My Kinda Lovin' is a spirited amalgam of vintage sounds, with frontman and guitarist Nader Mansour's punkish vocals sitting on top of driving Sun Records-era country-rock riffs provided by Salim Naffah.
While the group’s genuine love of the blues is clearly evident, it is when they were too devout in their worship of the genre that things got a little stale.
No amount of vocal zeal by Mansour could cover up the plodding Oh Wee, which is really a reworking – like we really needed another one – of the blues standard Baby, Please Don't Go.
Bad Rhyme also came close to falling on the wrong side of nostalgia, and would have had it not been for Mansour's dazzling harmonica flourishes.
Wanton Bishops work best when they merge their influences with an eye to the future.
The dance-tastic Shake was the evening's high point, with it's barrelling garage-rock riffs and terse but effective chorus. A close second was the frenzied Time To Go, with Mansour's voice in full throated growl.
The biggest crowd reaction arrived when Mansour wryly said: "It's time to play 'that one'." Of course, he was referring to their most popular track, and regional indie-hit, the sturdy rocker Sleep With The Lights On (the title track of their 2012 debut album). It came with plenty of back ground "aaahaas" for the crowd to sing along to.
With The Other Side’s opening night a success, here’s hoping the same enthusiasm extends to future instalments.