This is the first proper “pop” show that I have been to since BRMB used to do a Party in the Park and Credit to the Nation played. So, to balance my potentially cynical point of view, I have brought along a 10 year old friend of mine who is, needless to say, very excited and fully kitted out with flashing torch and knowledge of most of the bands playing. First band on stage at the very early time of 7pm is McFly, a quartet formed nearly 10 years ago from Busted’s writing team and rejects. Surprisingly, they all play their own instruments and are thoroughly enjoying themselves rebounding around the stage playing 5 Colours in Her Hair.
Each of the tracks are incredibly catchy and memorable, which have the audience singing along even at such an early stage in the proceedings, even their new song, Love is Easy has full support from the crowd. The band know how to write upbeat songs and are clearly comfortable performing in such a vast sold out arena; their onstage banter is actually quite endearing and gives you the sense that these young men have enjoyed their privileged life to the maximum. Their final song, Shine a Light, sees the venue lit up with torches, flashes from phones and cameras and glow sticks in appreciation.
Little Mix are my friend’s favourite band at the moment and immediately she asks why there are only three of them on stage, it turns out that Perry has had a tonsillectomy and Little Mix didn’t want to let their fans down so performed as a trio instead. The three songs they dance to, including Wings, leaves me feeling deflated and wishing for the likes of Bananarama to take to the stage to show them how it’s done. Their high pitched squeaking between songs doesn’t help their cause but the majority of the audience are singing and applauding their performance.
Luckily, Little Mix leave the stage to be quickly followed by Labrinth, who strolls on with his DJ and launches into Express Yourself. This track samples Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, which was also used more effectively by N.W.A back in the ‘80s, and Labrinth has created an infectiously cheerful song that has the audience jumping. This vibe continues into Let the Sun Shine and Earthquake which demonstrates Labrinth’s ability to write upbeat R&B and Hip Hop, yet he doesn’t appear to have the slick rhyming capabilities of the bigger artists such as Jay-Z; however, this may develop in time. Labrinth’s set is surprisingly brief, only comprising of three songs as well and choosing not to demonstrate any of his musical playing skills.
Amelia Lily makes her entrance from the side of the arena and walks to the stage whilst shaking hands with many of the audience on her way forward. It turns out that this is the most interesting part of her set and it is ruined by the fact she explains what she has done at the end of the song. She appears to be the least popular of all the performers so far, and the opinion from both ages in our party is that she is boring and my friend thought her dress looked awful! Fortunately, Amelia Lily’s set is also brief so at least we are not uninterested for too long. The final act of the first half is R&B trio, Stooshe, who start with a cover version of TLC’s Waterfalls. This would have been passable if we were in a karaoke bar and admittedly they must have watched TLC’s video a vast number of times to enable them to replicate their dance moves. It appears that Stooshe haven’t found their sound yet as the three songs they perform are all very different and don’t sit together as a complete or unique sound. As the group mature and get used to writing and performing together, they may produce a developed and comprehensive vibe that epitomises Stooshe.
The openers for the second half of the show are Lawson, a four piece who have recent chart success during the latter part of the year. The music being performed doesn’t necessarily connect with the instruments that are played on stage, especially the drumming and extra synthesizer that I can hear but cannot see.
On the whole, they present a mediocre set but you get the impression that the band are not fully behind the music they are producing, similar to Charlie Simpson when he was in Busted. I sense that at some point this band will go their separate ways and we will see some of them playing in genuine rock bands. Lawson are very popular with the predominantly female audience, especially when they leave the stage to connect with the crowd. Lawson leave to allow the multi-million selling vocalist, Leona Lewis to entertain us next, supported by two backing vocalists and an acoustic guitar player. She belts out Bleeding Love which resounds throughout the arena, demonstrating how amazing this woman’s voice is and the polished performance is one of an international star. It is disappointing that she is singing over a backing track and her new track wasn’t received as readily and it was probably the wrong environment to air material that hasn’t yet been heard.
The penultimate act are Scouting for Girls who receive a rapturous response as soon as they enter the stage. Like McFly, Scouting for Girls are very good at writing upbeat, catchy tunes that appeal to the masses which is clear from the amount of people singing along to their songs. Their set finishes with ultimate sing along song, She’s so Lovely which sees Roy Stride abandon his keyboard, even though it mysteriously keeps playing, to charge around the stage feeding off the energy supplied by the audience.
The headliners for this evening’s events are boy band-extraordinaire, JLS. My friend is getting more excited as the hype builds up and she isn’t the only one; the arena erupts as the group take to the stage to blast out twenty five minutes of hits and slick dance routines. JLS know what they are doing, with their banter about Birmingham having the “hottest girls” leading into their latest song, Hottest Girl in the World, and encouraging audience participation throughout each track with flashes of light and cheers resounding around the venue. Their dance routines are reminiscent of NKOTB and are often better than the pop songs that they have unleashed upon the UK market, but they are definitely the popular favourite of the evening especially when they shower the crowd with streamers and ticker tape galore.
The final summary of the evening, according to the thirty something year old, is that Labrinth and McFly were the biggest successes of the evening for their delivery and genuine attitude towards the music they produce. I struggle with bands not playing instruments and singing along to backing tracks; however, I understand the necessity for it when you have so many live acts performing in one evening and to be honest, most of the audience are not there for the musical prowess but more for the good times that these pop acts provide. My friend preferred Little Mix and JLS as she thought their songs are better and she appreciated their dance routines, and to be honest the smile on her face when both groups were on stage said it all.
Review by Toni Woodward
Photographs by Steve Gerrard