x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sandance rings in the new, but saves its sparks for midnight

The fireworks, and not the music, was the highlight of New Year's Eve at Sandance

The British singer and songwriter Ellie Goulding preforms at the New Years' Eve celebrations at Sandance at Nassimi Beach at the Atlantis. Razan Alzayani / The National
The British singer and songwriter Ellie Goulding preforms at the New Years' Eve celebrations at Sandance at Nassimi Beach at the Atlantis. Razan Alzayani / The National

Sandance on New Year's Eve is a tough gig. The crowd is there, really, for the fireworks and the fun; perhaps not so much for the bands.

Usually, Sandance plays it relatively safe with headline sets from familiar indie bands of the early noughties - Travis, Snow Patrol, the Kaiser Chiefs, to name a few. This time, though, the organisers took the bold step of booking, in the shape of Rita Ora and Ellie Goulding, two far more current acts. That's a welcome step, but the rub is that their material is perhaps less familiar and both struggled to engage an audience more concerned with merriment than music.

Rita Ora did her best to warm things up with a short, poppy set that did exactly what it needed to do, delivering her few hits and getting out of the way. It was a tight act, departing only slightly from her standard six-song set and finishing with a summery, suitably bleeped How We Do. She's clearly out to be a British Rihanna or Pink, and from the looks of it, she has a decent shot.

A few songs in, after the catchy dubstep-ish new song Figure 8, Ellie Goulding declared: "I'm having the best time of my life and I'm not even joking." It didn't quite ring true, although by the time she got to Only You she did finally seem to be enjoying herself.

Her cover of Elton John's Your Song went down well (although not without confusion; I heard a bloke near the front confidently telling his friend it was by The Beatles), and then Anything Could Happen, the lead single from her second album, Halcyon, really hooked the crowd for the first time, perhaps thanks to its easy-to-hoot chorus. That gave her an easier ride to her inevitable finale, Starry Eyed. Still, one couldn't help feeling she's a bit too cool, a bit too muso, for this crowd. Let's hope she comes back soon for a gig on her own.

But Monday night, as New Year's Eve should be, was really all about the fireworks. And what fireworks! DJ Zane Lowe gave the perfect, accessible lead-in to a spectacular display in front of the Atlantis hotel, showing everyone how to start 2013 with a bang.

* Karl Smith