Saturday, August 14, 2010

Polished pop - Westlife review

Aw, bless them

Party in the Paddock: Westlife, at Newbury Racecourse, on Saturday, August 14

WHEN Westlife started out in 1998 they were viewed as a “Baby Boyzone” - Ronan Keating even co-managed them for a while - but 12 years on, the Irish four-piece are nearly all married men and fathers in their early 30s, with 14 UK number ones under their belts, and a barrage of adoring fans. Along the way, they have shed a member and developed into one of the classiest pop acts around.

Although they long ago slipped the shackles of being a boyband with their Rat Pack tribute album Allow Us To Be Frank, Westlife do not quite fit the title “manband”; they are not hairy enough for that, and there is also something rather too asexual about them, highlighted by their all-too-literal dance moves during a cover of Kings of Leon’s Sex On Fire. Westlife shouldn’t try to be raunchy. It’s just wrong.

What they do pull off extremely successfully is a finely polished pop performance that showcases surprisingly strong vocals - as demonstrated acapella at one point - simple but well executed dance steps (not a bar stool in sight), and a rapport with the audience that suggests that Westlife’s remaining four members are still enjoying their place in the music world; apologising for bringing the “Irish weather” with them, and bringing the winner of the Ladies’ Day best dressed competition (hailing from Dublin, coincidentally) to the stage for a kiss with each band member.

Backed by a live band and performing plenty their big hits, the boys also pulled a number of surprising cover versions out of the bag, including Beyonce’s Halo, and Black Eyed Pea’s I’ve Got A Feeling. They also fitted in four costume changes - mainly all-black, although they did add a possibly ill-advised splash of colour for one segment. These clean-cut men definitely look their most handsome in monochrome.

Westlife may be best known for their ballads, such as Flying Without Wings and You Raise Me Up, but their set did include plenty of up-tempo moments, Kian Egan even briefly donning a guitar for a cover of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town. An upbeat vibe was definitely needed to help get the bedraggled Ladies’ Day crowd dancing happily under their umbrellas and helping them to forget that much of their finery had been ruined by a downpour just prior to the performance. Their dresses may have looked like rags, but Westlife ensured that the ladies at the races were still glad.

* Published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, August 19

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