Blues legend up to par at Dubai golf course venue for debut UAE appearance.
Cocker up where he belongs
DUBAI // Joe Cocker thrilled thousands of fans at his debut appearance in the UAE last night with a host of classic hits and his trademark jolting arm gestures.
The singer, who celebrated his 67th birthday only two days before, turned out a stunning performance mixing both new music with the 1960s hits which earned him his place in the rock and roll hall of fame.
The fact that the concert was being staged during the working week rather than at the weekend failed to put off music lovers. And Cocker, the only veteran of the 1969 Woodstock festival who still regularly tours, rewarded them with a performance packed with his trademark grit, power and raw emotion.
Though he recently released a new album, Hard Knocks, most of the show at Al Badia Golf Club near Dubai's Festival City was taken up with the much-loved songs he has made his own in a career that dates back to 1961.
The fans cheered as he launched into some of his best-know hits, including The Letter and When the Night Comes, punctuating the songs with his trademark wild, jolting gestures.
The crowd-pleasers kept on coming as Cocker reeled off Summer in the City, and Up Where We Belong, performed with backing singer Michelle Tillman, and You Are So Beautiful. The new album was represented by the title track Unforgiven.
The concert reached its climax when the singer and his band performed his signature song, his version of the Beatles' With a Little Help from my Friends.
Fears that the evening would be uncomfortably hot in the countdown to summer at first seemed groundless as a cool breeze blew past the stage, which was partially encircled by a water hazard, and across the grass. But as showtime neared the breeze disappeared and the humidity increased.
Perhaps reflecting the age profile of a Joe Cocker crowd, a message came through on a security officer's intercom beforehand saying that a number of fans were turning up with foldaway chairs and would it be all right if they brought them in. There was certainly more grey hair than at an average Dubai gig.
Phillippa Lowe, 53, from South Africa, who has worked as a teacher in Dubai for two years, said: "I'm a big Joe Cocker fan going back years and years but this is the first time I've seen him. In South Africa we're very limited with musicians visiting, so here in Dubai it's just a treat. And this venue is the best."
The American Julia Townsend, 45, an art professor at the American University of Dubai, said: "I'm not a huge Joe Cocker fan so I had to brush up on the songs this afternoon before I came. But he's fantastic. He's one of the authentic ones. He's the real thing."
Lowering the average age considerably were sixth formers Lauren Devine, 17, and her friend Jessica Bailey, 18.
Asked why they had come to see a rock star who was well into his sixties, Lauren said: "Because we've got very good taste in music.
"We haven't seen Joe Cocker before but we are fans, my favourite song is With a Little Help from My Friends."
Jessica added: "I love the Beatles and John Lennon. We go to lots of concerts, we've been to Usher, 30 Seconds to Mars, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and the Darkness.
The concert was the first in a 45-date summer tour that will take Cocker and his band to Morocco and on to Eastern Europe, Italy, Switzerland, Scandinavia, France and Germany, where he remains particularly popular.
For the singer, who grew up in the English town of Sheffield, the evening was the culmination of a decade-long ambition to perform in Dubai. As he wrapped up his almost 90-minute show, he said to the audience: "Thank you Dubai, it's been a long time coming."
In an interview from his home in Colorado before leaving for the UAE, he said: "Over the last 10 years it's been one of those gigs that's been on and then off.
"We were either touring or it wasn't convenient or we couldn't make it; different things have got in the way.
"I've always been curious to play Dubai, I've had friends who've been out there and they were always surprised that I hadn't done it. I always love it when we travel to new territories."