Live Review: Westlife @ Croke Park, June 23rd 2012

Posted: 03/07/2012 in Uncategorized

Fourteen years. Westside to Westlife; five to four. Over 45 million record sales worldwide. 25 UK top ten singles, fourteen of them reaching number one. Countless sold-out arenas. Bad haircuts, matching suits, and a strange attachment to stools. Love them or hate them, under the astute management of pop powerhouses Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell Westlife have been Ireland’s biggest boyband runaway success story – but now the time has come to bid them adieu. And with two sold-out shows in Croke Park to bring their Farwell Tour to a close, you can be sure it wasn’t done quietly.

It’s an all-out pop party under grey skies from mid afternoon with inspired choices of support acts Jedward and The Wanted. The Brothers Grimes can always be trusted to give it absolutely everything, even if it’s to a pretty empty stadium, but the Wanted prove a much bigger draw. “We may not dance – but we do sing live!” is the boyband disclaimer from head honcho Max George, and that they do – with a full band no less. The Wanted have some quality pop songs in their arsenal, from ballads ‘Heart Vacancy’ and ‘Warzone’ to the impossibly catchy hook-laden ‘Lightning’ – which would make you wonder why they felt the need to include an overly long Coldplay medley in their set. Very free n’ easy use of the word ‘medley’, too – more like playing four full Coldplay songs in a row, and the less said about Nathan Sykes operatic leanings throughout the better. But they serve their purpose perfectly and get a Croke Park audience which is increasing by the minute all worked up for the main event. The Wanted’s Irish representative Siva Kaneswaran pays tribute to the crowd – “Westlife have such lovely fans – we can only wish for this level of support in the future!” Closing duo of current single ‘Chasing The Sun’ and the all-conquering ‘Glad You Came’ encourage all singing, all dancing participation – the excitement is palpable. Bring it on, Westlife.

Individual interviews with the four members of Westlife played on the big screens either side of the gargantuan stage serve as the introduction to the show, and shortly after 9PM it all kicks off – the curtain drops and Nicky, Mark, Shane and Kian are on fire in an instant… or at least made to look like they are, thanks to some smart onstage pyrotechnics. Once the burning effigy symbolism is out of the way, ‘What About Now’ is the choice of opener, the chorus inspiring a mass sing-along. The ballads are out in force for the opening segment (not a stool in sight, though!) and it’s clear from the offset that the crowd are going to play as much of a role in this as the Westlife lads themselves. A sea of multi-coloured ponchos, pink cowboy hats and glowsticks (with the exception of the odd disgruntled dad or bored boyfriend) the crowd’s word-for-word singing even make the dull-as-dishwater ‘My Love’ seem exciting. “This is amazing”, acknowledges Nicky Byrne, “It’s like the biggest hen party ever seen!” He’s not wrong.

Another video interlude of Westlife discussing their feelings about calling it a day, and it’s into part two. Shiny blue blazers for ‘Uptown Girl’, with a bit of dancing even thrown in, takes it up a notch – but the less said about the dubstep-esque breakdown at the end, the better. The video montage of archive footage played during ‘Queen Of My Heart’ ties in perfectly with the songs rather apt chorus for the night that’s in it, the crowd linking arms and swaying en masse. After greeting the fans watching simultaneously in cinemas around Europe, Westlife take a timeout to do a bit of flag-spotting around the stadium, greeting those who’ve travelled from afar to catch their last hurrah – and also to read out some of the banners from the front rows, ranging from “This Memory Will Last An Eternity” to “Stick It In Me, Westlife”. Charming.

Another video interview interlude to accommodate the costume change, and it’s time for one of the strangest mish-mashes of a medley ever conceived. On paper, Westlife singing ‘I Gotta Feelin’, ‘Party Rock Anthem’, ‘Sex on Fire’ and bizarrely The Pussy Cat Dolls ‘Don’t Cha’ just should not work – yet they pull it off, thanks in part to the distractions offered by some dazzling pyrotechnic effects and a fireworks display. ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ also get dragged into the madness, with Kian Egan joining the band on lead guitar duties for the latter. Westlife are of course no strangers to cover versions, but given the extent of their recorded back-catalogue the whole spectacle seemed a bit unnecessary… But then again, they’re not exactly awash with upbeat tunes, so the reasoning is understandable – even if it was at the expense of some of their better ballads such as ‘Tonight’ and ‘Unbreakable’.

There’s a second stage centre-field and this is where Westlife choose to spend majority the final segment of the set. “This show is dedicated to each and every one of you, who’ve made our dreams come true. For every single, album and ticket you’ve bought – THANK YOU!” says Mark Feehily, before Westlife launch into a trio of some of their most commercially successful songs to date – ‘Mandy’, ‘Home’, and the song that started it all, ‘Swear It Again’. And then, it’s the moment that Westlife and their fans been dreading. The four each take an individual stint alone on stage to say their thank-yous and goodbyes – no point in hiding their emotions, and fans around the stadium follow suit, openly weeping as the reality of their favourite group hanging up their microphones for good hits home. A touching rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’ draws it to a close, the stadium in near darkness save for the lights of mobile phones held aloft – the massive final chorus proves too much for Shane Filan as he breaks down, using a tricolour to dry his tears. Awwww, we HATE goodbyes too Shane.

You didn’t think Westlife were gonna bow out in such a miserable state, did you? Of COURSE there was an encore – and the best has been saved for last. They’ve dressed for the occasion too, all clad in tuxedos for a brilliant performance of ‘World Of Our Own’, before one final “goodbye” leads into the song that is synonymous with the Westlife brand, ‘Flying Without Wings’. Another video montage of Westlife through the ages accompanied by a fireworks display brings the evening, and their careers, to a close. It was a spectacle, to say the least – but big-budget production values aside, it was also a wonderfully apt treat for their fans most faithful, which will no doubt live strong in their memories as the Greatest Hits CDs become scratched from over-playing and the souvenir t-shirts fade in the wash. Happy Retirement, Westlife!


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