x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

Review: In form and on time, Justin Bieber impresses in Dubai show

The Canadian pop star delighted fans with a spectacular show on the Dubai date of his Purpose World Tour.

Justin Bieber performs in concert on May 6, 2017, at the Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak for The National
Justin Bieber performs in concert on May 6, 2017, at the Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak for The National

It seems Justin Bieber has invested in a watch since his last visit to Dubai.

Not long before his scheduled 8pm stage time on Saturday, May 6, a few fans could be heard discussing the two-hour delay to the start of his 2013 UAE engagements.

If they were concerned about a possible repeat, they need not have worried – at 8.06pm a tsunami of screams and hormones surged forth from all corners of the Autism Rocks Arena. In the moments before the metaphorical curtain rose there was palpable expectation in the air, a feeling that this was beyond a mere concert: it was a true “event”.

The “curtain” in this case was a plastic box from which the man of the moment emerged with the sounds of Mark My Words stirring the night.

It provided a brooding, dramatic start to a show filled with contrasts; this introspective intro was swiftly followed by they bouncing Where Are U Now.

“What a beautiful night,” said the Canadian, seemingly dressed for a basketball game. Not that this mattered – had he been wearing a novelty carrot costume, most of this crowd would undoubtedly still have swooned.

Bieber swiftly whipped up an occasion brimming with pyrotechnics and high production values, the 23-year-old letting his hits and army of musicians and dancers do most of the “talking” on stage as the set-list diarised his meteoric rise from cute precocious kid to millionaire tattoo canvas.

Get Used To It proved another collective test of the audience’s deodorant choices, as thousands of girls and boys emulated the mesmerising stage routines. Bieber also has moves, but here seemed satisfied to largely chip in with the slick manoeuvres of his chorus line, rather than take the lead.

Indeed, at times he almost played a cameo role in his own well oiled, heavily budgeted pop blockbuster, which was elevated by a mix of canny co-stars and generous stagecraft.

Bieber paused to tell us he was pleased to be here, but perhaps he forgot to remind his face. His biggest smile of the night was reserved for a handful of young, local dancers who joined his energetic gang for one song.

With latest album Purpose pounding the charts in 100 countries, Bieber arguably does not need to justify himself, beyond performing the songs or to issue platitudes. The masses came here, after all, to hear Boyfriend, not banter.

And having smoothed out his adolescent speed bumps, you sense he is content now to just get on with it, serving up one of the defining tours of 2017.

Even for casual observers, this visit brimmed with familiar sounds from a star who has made himself impossible to ignore, with Company and Baby raucously confirmed as audience highlights.

An epic stage show and its backing singers and groovers lent the live Bieber experience some welcome colour – and he appeared to rely on a backing track during the more physical moments.

But he ditched all that for an acoustic guitar for tender stripped-back versions of Cold Water and Love Yourself – appearing comfortable as he perhaps took a leaf out of collaborator Ed Sheeran’s operating manual.

It was an endearing, approachable moment, as well as a reminder that this lad has attributes other than sullen good looks.

He absorbed the resultant adoration with a rare whiff of humility, at odds with other periods of the show when his demeanour was informed by apparent indifference, bordering on arrogance and entitlement.

All that said, with the inimitable Sorry closing the show, along with more fireworks, you couldn’t help feeling present-day Bieber has less to repent than his younger self.

I left with a little more respect for Bieber in terms of the music, if not the person. He remains more enigmatic than charismatic and – at times – his stage persona is plain pragmatic.

Yet, if part of the “purpose” of the Purpose World Tour is to convince floating voters of his superstar credentials, this Dubai dalliance will have done his reputation no harm at all.

artslife@thenational.ae