Westlife – Nottingham Trent FM Arena, Tuesday June 24
In just over a week’s time, the four members of Westlife will be celebrating their tenth anniversary as a working outfit. In just under a week’s time, the last date on their Back Hometour completed, they will be disappearing from public view for a year-long break.
Looking at the band’s extraordinary track record over the last decade — nine hit albums, twenty-three Top Ten singles and no less than fourteen UK chart-toppers — the break is clearly well deserved. Whereas most boybands have been lucky to make it past the three year mark, Westlife’s enduring success, and their transition from teen scream idols to adult contemporary artists, has seen them tearing up the rule books, and taking their place in the record books. It’s an astonishing fact, and one which their detractors would rather not face, but only Elvis Presley and The Beatles have had more Number One singles in this country. Clearly, Westlife must be doing something right.
On record, the band’s stock in trade is the romantic ballad. Songs typically start quietly, building up to a sturdy, memorable chorus, and ending with a dramatic flourish. To some, the music sticks to a tiresomely unadventurous formula, which has been stretched way too thin. To others, they simply make for pleasant, undemanding easy listening. But to their loyal fanbase, several thousand of whom packed into the Trent FM Arena last night, singing and waving along to almost every word, they are lapped up with the sort of buoyant, infectious enthusiasm that cannot easily be argued with.
Smart enough to realise that an evening of wall-to-wall ballads would soon start to drag, the boys displayed a versatility on stage that could have surprised some of their critics. The show started in an uptempo mood, and never sunk into smoochiness for too long. The trademark stools were almost entirely absent, only appearing during a three-song acoustic section, and the customary dark suits were soon swapped for more casual gear. Time and effort had been spent on the choreography and the staging, with well conceived visual backdrops and some cracking pyrotechnic effects.
Shane’s lead vocals sounded weightier and more authoritative then on record, where they sometimes suffer from a certain weediness. A smiling Kian and a more subdued Mark provided solid backing throughout, while Nicky shamelessly milked the crowd for screams, his enjoyment plain for all to see.
Having built the crowd up to fever pitch with a medley of classic pop covers (The Jacksons, Kool and the Gang, Wham, Robbie Williams), the show’s only real wobble came during the stripped-down acoustic section, which couldn’t help but expose the underlying weakness of some of the songs. A final run of Home, Us Against The World, Swear It Again and Flying Without Wings provided the necessary uplift, with proceedings being briefly halted for an unscheduled marriage proposal. A banner had been spotted in the crowd (“SHANE, ASK ALEX TO MARRY ME PLEASE!”), and the happy couple were duly hauled to the front of the stage, where Alex bashfully accepted her boyfriend’s bold romantic gesture.
The best loved hit was saved for last, as the boys re-appeared in matching white suits for You Raise Me Up, the anthemic final encore. Sure, Westlife’s music might be conservative and unchallenging — but the straightforward pleasure that it brought was a joy to behold. As one of their songs puts it: what’s wrong with saying it the easy way?
Set list: Hit You With The Real Thing, World Of Our Own, Something Right, What Makes A Man, Uptown Girl, The Easy Way/ABC, If I Let You Go, Mandy, Medley (Sexyback/Blame It On The Boogie/Get Down On It/I’m Your Man/Let Me Entertain You), I’m Already There, Unbreakable, Queen Of My Heart, Fool Again, Catch My Breath, Home, Us Against The World, Swear It Again, Flying Without Wings, When You’re Looking Like That, You Raise Me Up.