Eli Teplin at Q's Bar & Lounge by Quincy Jones - Palazzo Versace, Dubai

Having been entertained by incredible jazz by three former acts at Q's Bar & Lounge, I could be forgiven for arriving to listen to the latest performer to take up residency at this fantastic venue, Eli Teplin, with ambivalent feelings. Knowing that this singer -songwriter was bringing to Q's a more pop-like approach to music, I needed to adjust my mindset. nonetheless, I opened my mind to his music. 

 At 21.15, He launches into New York state of Mind, a Billy Joel composition. There is indeed a decided jazziness to this, interestingly, something that belies his reputed penchant for more popular music. I am pleasantly surprised. He comes across as remarkably down to earth - a very unassuming, regular person. As he introduces his next song, a rendition of Adele's Someone like you, he lets the audience into his world of depth and vulnerability. "The first time I heard this song, I had to pull the car over", he muses. I sit up and really take note. It is during this sensitive interpretation that keeps the essence of Adele's version, that I appreciate the shift from jazz to pop at the venue - drummer Eli Cherry, yes his name is Eli too,  really allows his drums to move out of the background, and while staying true to the original version of this song, there is an energy in his playing that excites me about the evening ahead. Furthermore, his backing vocals on this is an added highlight for me. I could have listened to this again.

You know, there are those moments in a venue like this, when you are feeling your way through the opening exchanges and then suddenly a complete connection ...Eli prefaces "Look at me", an original composition, by describing the feeling of a man so in love with a woman but frustrated that she just seems to look right by him all the time, not realising what is in front of her.

'Look at me, I am right in front of you, the cry of anyone who has ever felt overlooked by someone in this situation. You know the feeling - you see here every day and you hang out together, but she does not really see you. It is an honest piece that has an Emily Dickinson feel to it lyrically - simple words with a big impact. "You look the other way. I'm not that far away from you". As a lyricist, he is the most exciting I have experienced at Q's - it is easy to feed guests a staple of cover versions, but it is much harder to move them and take them on a journey to a place they have not been before. Eli has started that with me tonight.

Vocally, I am taken away to a place where Coldplay meets the Fray meets Jason Mraz - it is a wonderful place punctuated by delightful falsettos! Look out too for Heavy memories of youanother piece that illustrates Eli Teplin's great strength - to tap into those common experiences of love  celebrated  and lost, and create a window into his heart that often reveals our own responses to crash and burn events in life. 

But Eli Teplin is not all depth and introspection. There is a definite fun side that you are sure to love. Silly Bird is so much about simple pleasures, done in a simplistic way that again recalls Emily Dickinson. Finally, Stevie Wonder's Isn't she Lovely continues to give guests a chance to just shield the heart strings for now and just tap feet. Meanwhile, the electric bass solo on this is top notch. Joshua McClanahan, like Eli Cherry, is an LA native and his fingers on both bass and electric bass leaves me  a bit exhausted - that is a good thing!

Just before the break, Hello California is another one of those songs which allows Eli to wear his heart on his sleeve and he describes the experience of moving to LA. Words like 'uncertainty', 'afraid', 'hesitation' and the line 'Am I worthy? convey the darker emotions we all feel at some point when a big decision like moving house is made. I can understand why Quincy Jones waxes on about his song writing skills!

That is a pretty intense moment and he breaks it in a most gentle way by launching into Brahms' Opus 118 - no one there to accompany him. It is not a remixed Brahms, just Brahms, his favourite composer. It brings to the fore Eli's classical background. Very nice indeed!

As they take a break before the 2nd set, I decide to eat something - I order the Tuna tartare and  Mini beef sliders - both offer guests something distinctly satisfying. The tuna tare with avocado is richly textured - The par-ripe  avocado and brioche take care of that. It is a really lovely little dish, for those not ravenous, but wanting something other than nuts with a glass of something. I find that my glass of R de Ruinart Brut NV is a decent accompaniment - I write about their house champagne every time because it is really one of the best house champagnes at a hotel in the city. 

Finally, the beef sliders - yes, I was quite hungry at 10pm! They are functional and well priced. At 65AED, served with a generous amount of fries, this is the meal for you if you want to have something  a bit more substantial that will leave you quite satisfied. It is good old fashioned bar food! I have a glass of Fetzer Valley Oaks Zinfandel from California, at 83AED, a very reasonable price. Incidentally, the use of Coravin wine technology means some finer wines are also available by the glass, something definitely worth exploring! Finally, having had a chat with Eli and the band during the break, I feel a rare connection that also allows me greater insight into his songwriting. 

The second set gets underway with Bruce Hornsby's The Way It Is - between the keys and electric bass, a memorable version. But it is another original composition that is the highlight of the evening for me - We've only just begun. It is the context that Eli sets which allows the guest to really tune in to the lyrics. There is an ease with which he engages the audience. It is hauntingly beautiful song that looks at the fall out from a relationship ending - not only do you deal with the loss of the present, it is also the loss of the promised tomorrow. After the initial optimism of love, he proclaims 'The fireworks are over now'. Over. Exquisite sadness.

The second set moves away from the acoustic sound of the first and gets nice and loud with some of his own tunes of course, but it is Something Just like This, the Chainsmokers and Coldplay collaboration that seriously kills, with some brilliant bass work by Josh. I enjoy it as Eli gets really poppy, although there are times that his vocals are somewhat drowned out by the instruments. Nonetheless, a side of Ei that is really enjoyable - there is a childlike enjoyment at times as he glances to the band and they exchange glances, broad smiles, recognising how they love it  - real nowness tuff!

The final set shows Eli and the band really super relaxed. It is not a busy night and there are moments at the end  that I feel I am on a movie set, in the wee hours of the morning, along with my guest the only people in the bar, chatting with the performers between songs; pretty cool and memorable stuff. While Eli counts his major influences to be John Mayer, Bruce Hornsby and Billy Joel, I find it fitting that he does include two Coldplay songs in the final set because I see alot of influence by Chris Martin. The Scientist, performed in the third set, has a line that in many ways, captures Eli, " Questions of science, science and progress, Do not speak as loud as my heart." He is all heart and it is indeed a privilege to sit there while he opens up. 

There are too many songs with an emotional energy to mention. You just have to go and listen to Eli, Josh and Eli. But I must mention Whenever you call, written from a . woman's point of view, let down by a lover who only calls to apologise for hurting and disappointing her. Why no 'I love you' call, Eli asks. I feel he takes the sensitivity up a few levels with this piece. 

If I felt exhausted at various stages throughout the show, I am drained at the end. intense. The question that guests who have experienced the previous jazz-heavy performers will ask, like me, is whether or not Q's  Bar & Lounge has already cast itself as a jazz bar or if it is still seen as a bar that is a great music venue - the best in Dubai actually. If it is the latter, then Eli fits in effortlessly. But I suspect people, like me, have started to see this as a jazz venue. Thanks to his strong performance and genuine song writing gift, I think Eli has helped to remind guests that Q's is a music venue, and jazz is one of the genres to be enjoyed. Perfectly executed pop music can find a home here, but then again, it is because of Eli Teplin's story telling that it is likely to set his brand of pop apart from other popular music artists who may perform here. His lyrics have a simple quality, as mentioned earlier, that like Emily Dickinson writing, avoids muscle and cartilage and go straight to the heart. Overall, an evening to be experienced if you want to connect with emotions once more, to smile, frown, laugh and even cry!

Qs Bar & Lounge
Palazzo Versace Hotel
+971 4 556 8888

Qs at Palazzo Versace

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