THE fans thought it was adieu, but it was only au revoir – a mere, almost indecent seven years since their farewell tour, Teflon Irish boy band Westlife have done a Take That and returned as men to satisfy the unstinting demand for their polished, wholesome, balladeer schtick which, as frontman Shane Filan will attest, has provided a much more stable career than property development.
Westlife, Hydro, Glasgow ***
The former boys-next-door are now family men and there was a bland maturity to opening number Hello My Love. This recent Ed Sheeran-penned single from comeback album Spectrum is no different from the blaring pop vacuity of supposedly hipper bands like Bastille and Mumford & Sons and augured a slick exercise in mass market entertainment, ruthlessly professional but lacking personality and stagecraft.
With live band consigned to the wings, the bare stage was hardly used except for the four singers to fan out and make sanctifying gestures to the faithful.The expensive digital graphics provided the spectacle and their barrage of bludgeoning ballads was ramped up to stadium levels – a resistance-is-futile trick they’ve learned from a record number of appearances at Wembley Arena.
Still, they can – and do – laugh about their image as sentimental sedentary chanteurs. The re(s)tooled Westlife haven’t forgotten their bread-and-butter wimpy ballads – one of the prime examples, Swear It Again, was taken up with ardour by fans young and old, and there was a practised relish in their delivery of the terminally uncool and old-fashioned boy band yearning of early hits My Love and If I Let You Go.
That slick commitment extended to their cover versions. The barbershop harmonies and pastiche Motown moves of Uptown Girl and the bleeding heart supplication of Mandy were virtually interchangeable with their own material – barring the superior songwriting of these old masters.
A Queen medley performed in camp leather boy gear was the most fun they could possibly have from their chosen billet in the middle of the road, with their strongest vocalist Mark Feehily doing the heavy Mercury lifting.
In years gone by, this could have come across as a rather desperate cabaret but Westlife owned their performance, from the playful banter to their seamless, if mostly serviceable vocals to the sheer schmaltzy bombast of closing numbers What Makes A Man and You Raise Me Up and the all-important key change moment in encore choice World Of Our Own.