x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Iron resurrection and shaggy verses

Cultural calendar Iron Maiden are in Dubai this week, launching the final leg of their Somewhere Back in Time tour.

Bruce Dickinson and the rest of Iron Maiden perform on Friday at Dubai Media City.
Bruce Dickinson and the rest of Iron Maiden perform on Friday at Dubai Media City.

Metal acts are always coming back into style. Like parolees from some dismal German exile, there's a constant trickle of denim-clad lunks, rehabilitated - or, more precisely, sterilised - by urbanite irony. Think of Aerosmith and Run DMC, or Jay-Z's mash-up of AC/DC at last year's Glastonbury. Or remember how Beavis's trademark Metallica T-shirt spawned an army of meta-metalheads, tongue-in-cheek standard-bearers for a band so earnest they released a film of their group therapy sessions (which, it so happens, you can see at Mahmovies! on the 22nd)? It's also remarkable that doom metal, that ongoing deconstruction of the Black Sabbath sound, has ascended in chin-stroker cache to the extent that the minimalist composer Rhys Chatham got interested: he entered the fray a couple of years ago with Essentialist, a rock-band side-project his website billed as "mind-crushing". In such a context, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that Iron Maiden are getting another bite at the cherry. Among other signs of pop-cultural detente, they're up for a Brit award this year for best British live act. The hipster website avclub.com gave a respectful briefing on their forthcoming tour video. And yet, this is still Iron Maiden, of the operatic vocals and cyborg mascot, and the comically over-ambitious attempts to rewrite The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and distil the career of Alexander the Great - complete with dates - into a nine-minute power-metal chugger. Writing as a one-time fan, it's a little like hearing that one's shameful trove of Games Workshop paraphernalia has gone to Christie's and is doing rather well, but that all the bidders are anthropologists: pleasure comes tempered by circumspection. It's with these misgivings, then, that I note that the Maiden are in Dubai this week, launching the final leg of their Somewhere Back in Time tour. "Can I play with madness?" they once asked. A more pertinent question might be: can I live it down a second time? Let's hope so.

For those whose hunger for myth, valour and high adventure is too ravenous for even Iron Maiden to satisfy, Adach has a trio of solutions. The German Radio Philharmonic is coming to the Emirates Palace this week to play Howard Shore's Oscar-winning score from the Lord of the Rings films. That's on Friday. The following day, Roby Lakatos, the king of the gypsy violin, will be unleashing his fearsome chops in the Emirates Palace Auditorium. And on Thursday, Serbia's Earth-Wheel-Sky Band will offer up another take on the gypsy sound at Abu Dhabi's Al Dhafra theatre. Be careful, though: too much exposure to this sort of stuff may awaken a distinctly Tookish wanderlust. You have been warned.

To contrast with all this picturesque vagabondage, Dubai's Third Line gallery presents a much darker vision of nomadism. The new show, D Series, is a photographic collection of desert landscapes, most of which contain a single, struggling figure. The artist is Tarek Al Ghoussein, a Palestinian-Kuwaiti who has gone into the barren regions of the UAE to construct symbols for the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Barriers cross the trackless wastes; a man is held in a flimsy pen even as sands stretch all around him. As is becoming their habit, the gallery is planning to launch an artist's book, titled In Absentia, to coincide with the show. If it's anything like the retrospective they put out for Youssef Nabil last year, it should be a very impressive piece of work.

Lastly, it wouldn't do to let Shaggy's visit to these shores pass without comment. He's coming to Dubai Festival City on Thursday as part of the publicity drive behind his new record, Best of Shaggy: The Boombastic Collection. You may be surprised to learn that he has enough of a back-catalogue to make a best-of feasible: eight studio albums precede this compilation, including the sextuple-platinum disc Hot Shot, whence sprang the singles Angel and It Wasn't Me. It's difficult to square this proof of sustained industry with the sense - prolonged for more than 15 years now - that Shaggy is a novelty act, mugging away gamely because a spotlight happened to fall on him. This is his genius, of course: few performers have so succeeded in effacing the connection between pop-music and hard graft. Shaggy's best moments may sound like dashed-off whimsies, but to a certain manner of thinking, that's exactly how a hit single ought to sound. He makes singing Oh Carolina appear like a gentlemanly diversion. For that alone, kudos.

* Ed Lake