Punk popsters The Strike at Qs Bar & Lounge - Palazzo Versace Hotel, Dubai

They look so dapper in their open neck shirts and jackets. There is something suave and elegant about these guys. The 5 piece band features a saxophonist, someone on keys and trombone, a drummer, guitarist and vocalist. It is a jazzy opening and the sound of brass fills the venue beautifully. Tonight, The Strike, a Utah based band, yes you have that right, a band, takes centre stage at Qs Bar & Lounge, Quincy Jones' fabulous live music venue at one of the city's most luxurious addresses, Palazzo Versace Hotel. 

It does not take me long to connect with the band. "Gravity", the Sara Bareilles song,  is given a rock/bluesy interpretation, more akin to the John Mayer version, revealing the lead singer's strong vocals. This is my moment. It is going to be a brilliant evening, I muse to myself. 

The opening set includes some tunes that have become standard at the venue. But what I like about their take on Bill Withers' "Just the two of us" is the solos to mini solos featuring the sax, trombone and guitar. You see, regulars to Qs want to know that each resident performer brings something unique to the evening, but something that is also tangible. After a couple songs, that is already abundantly clear with The Strike. While this set is intended to ease people into the evening, make no mistake, the energy is there from the start. The band's rendition of Frank Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey" is a case in point. Ballad it may be, but the  sheer depth of Chris Crabb's vocals and stage presence is inescapable. It is very much a case of, to adulterate and twist the lines of my favourite poet TS Eliot, starting with a bang and not a whimper. 

Tease of the night belongs to their vocal free jazzy/reggae version of The Police's "Walking on the moon". With every chord that passes, I keep expecting the vocals to follow, but alas it never does. I think he could actually pull it off, but in not adding vocals to this one. It works as unwittingly I think the band create anticipation for what lies ahead. MIles on sax, by the way, shows that this venue was designed for his instrument. 

During the break, feeling a bit peckish, I order the Q’s Nigiri and Maki Platter - while not as ideal a  pairing as beer and sushi, I quite enjoy the generously sized platter paired with the R de Ruinart Brut champagne - try this. There is something mildly decadent about the combination!

We are told that the second set is a lot more acoustic, and this is illustrated when we see the stage empty, with the exception of Chris, who is at the keyboards. Having seen the side of him that is all about owning the stage and drawing the audience in with him, this is more mellow, sensitive but anything but uninteresting. 

He keeps stage banter to a minimum, yet when he does reach out to the audience, he effortlessly forges a connection because he is so sincere. It is pointed out by Qs Bar & Lounge Manager Faisal that the band gets through more songs in their evening than any other performer before. Of course there are a number of reasons for this, but one is certainly a case of letting the music talk, if you will. 

The second set features some American classics and when he dons the acoustic guitar and is joined by Alex on electric guitar and does "I'm on Fire" by The Boss, I have one of those moments of happiness that I just want to pocket and save. 

In the midst of the stage theatrics it is easy to lose sight of the band's lyrics on their original compositions. It is understandable because as I watch them perform, in particular frontman Chris as he struts his stuff, I am transported away from this intimate space, but a friend's comment that I should focus on their originals takes the evening in another direction. The highlight of many highlights in the second set is I fall hard, a song penned by the band that resonates with anyone often labeled as falling in love too quickly, or emotional - how can one not but love deeply and completely when one falls in love? I mean, is there any other way? It is the perfect pop song with a real edge to it. "When I fall", an ode to loving intensely.

When I fall 
I fall hard 
And when I love 
I love hard 
And I know that you would never do that to me 
Break my heart you know it just might kill me 
Lower me down into my burial ground 
When I fall 
In love 
I fall hard 

In this set, the band really gives guests a very eclectic and unpredictable range of songs. He moves from Beyonce to Ed Sheeran to Ben E King in an effortless transition. It is in the latter's "Stand by me" that he has people applauding with gusto. At this moment Chris lets go completely and takes the audience into the weird and wonderful world of his stage persona. I think, more than any other performer before him at this venue, he makes use of the stage, the whole stage, reminiscent of Q's very first performer Shelea. There is a moment when he stands, foot on a speaker, and looks around the room. Goosebumps. Priceless. 

The band strikes a good balance between playing familiar and favourite songs for guests with their own original pieces. The latter continues with "Faint of heart", a song that rallies behind those who are in love but dare not fully express it for a lack of courage. So universal, right? 

Feel the room get colder 
You can rest your head 
On my shoulder 

Won't you 
Move a little closer 
Won't you 
Come and sit close to me 

Cuz I've been waiting forever 
Waiting on this to start 
Can you lend me your hand 
I'm a little too faint of heart 

In this moment together 
Though we feel worlds apart 
Can you lend me your hand 
I'm a little too faint of heart 

During the break before the final set, I follow the suggestion by Flora, as natural a waitress as you will meet and who never holds back on  making a recommendation, and have the Mellow Madness. It is a cocktail based on Quincy Jones' 1975 studio album - for those who did not read my first post on Qs, some drinks are inspired by albums produced by the maestro himself, lending a quirkiness to the drinks menu. 

If there is something decadent about having sushi with Ruinart, then this drink on its own must have been created by Hedone, the Greek goddess of pleasure and enjoyment. The drinks brings together Belvedere Polish vodka, passionfruit and fresh green apples and topped with  R de Ruinart brut Champagne. If you don't believe me, have a look at the glass base when it is served. 

By the time the final set starts, I am all hyped up, as if I had been drinking espresso all night. These guys really know how to create a mood. The word energy keeps coming to mind, even more so when I look around and see that they have been hanging out with guests during the break. 

The final set is simply like very sets you would have experienced at Qs. Notwithstanding that an attention seeking guest keeps trying to deflect the spotlight away from the band by making a nuisance of herself, dancing and prancing around the front of the stage, it is quite a set to be part of. However, I do feel a stronger arm by staff and security would not have been out of place. 

Be that as it may, the performance is on another level and I believe takes the group closer to its punky psychedelic roots. Easily the sexiest version of a Prince song I have heard at this venue, and there have been a few,  is brought to life by Chris, with an unrelenting falsetto that I never want to stop. "I wanna be your lover" is now inextricably linked to Qs! But that is not all. He has some serious dance movies. It is also the first time I have seen lighting used to such good effect at Qs, mainly because the movement on the stage calls for it. Be prepared to wowed when next you visit. 

This set is littered with memorable tunes as we are treated to a sumptuous version of  "Senorita" by  Justin Timberlake that scores both on delivery and guest involvement. It is a song that really allows Chris to express his personality, not that he needs any encouragement! However, it is his performance on "Benny and the Jets", an Elton John piece,  that elevates him further  theatre and drama, this what the band's voice and face really revels in. It is towards the end of this piece that someone in the crowd shouts out, "David Bowie." While the band do not do a Bowie tune, I could see them mesmerising us with "Space Oddity". I live in hope.  

Tears for Fears' "Everybody wants to rule the world" is an 80s gem given respectful treatment and there is also another Prince song. "Kiss" - just perfect. Perhaps it is fitting though that the final song for the night is Michael Jackson's disco-funk classic, "Don't stop 'til you get enough", itself a track produced by Quincy Jones. There is no doubt that the band enjoy covering the king of pop's tunes, but for me it is their appropriate choice of songs that makes me sit up and be wowed. Not only does this piece give Chris a platform to give us his falsetto once more, it also brings his dance skills to the stage again. What a grande finale!

During "Senorita" there was a realisation that creeps into my head that the evening is so much fun. This for me is part of the evolution of Qs. From serious artists during whose performances one's voice  never went above a whisper so as not to lose the moment, to an evening like this where one is left in a state of delirium. Qs has an ability to surprise guests with its artists, and this should continue. After I witnessed Clarke Beckham, the most recent performer at Qs that preceded The Strike, I wrote: Just because it is a small and intimate venue does not mean performers cannot bring down the roof with some serious guitar riffs. I can see this venue evolving even more to accommodate a rock act soon!

 Tonight that statement started taking on a reality; a reality that yes, the possibilities for this venue are as endless as the intensity of tonight's performers. The Strike has set the standard now by which all future acts will be judged in so far as they simply brought everything to Qs - drama, charisma, sincerity, fun, good lyrics ... seriously the most complete act Qs has had to date. 


Qs Bar & Lounge,

Palazzo Versace Hotel,
+971 4 556 8888

The Strike is performing at Qs bar & Lounge until 12 May, 2018. 

Note: There is a minimum spend of AED250 on weekdays, 350AED Thursday and Friday

Disclaimer: I tried Q's by invitation of the hotel. All views are my own. 
Brandon Stoltenkamp