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28 October 2014

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Il Divo and Hayley Westenra at the Arena - 7/10

Hannah Wysome (gig: 09/04/06)
In a strange bit of billing, Hayley Westenra did a great job in support, despite being stuck on stage with nowt but a backing track and a bit of old sheet to keep her company.

Hayley Westenra
Hayley Westenra

Unlike the faux lip-wobbling vibrato of pre-Henson Church, Westenra’s singing style stays true to her youth; melodies remain uncomplicated by Mariah-esque vocal trickery. Undaunted by the massive arena crowd she works the stage with real poise, speaking to the crowd with a refreshingly unaffected air of familiarity.

From traditional folk tune Scarborough Fair through to the plaintive Maori love-song Pokarekare Ana, Westenra more than held her own in front of 18,000 women who would quite happily have sat through half an hour of Slayer as long as they knew their boys were coming on next.

After the requisite amount of curtain fiddling to give everyone the chance to enter the ‘Meet the Boys backstage after the show’ text competition 15 times, the Il Divo orchestra took their places on the beautifully crafted set; half Roman villa/half Noel’s House Party.

The whole concept is an amazing piece of marketing. Following on with All by Myself, it becomes clear that they’ve picked every song out of the Bridget Jones songbook, translated the particularly clumsy lines into whichever language makes them sound pretty and selected four men, at least one of whom will cater to most women’s aesthetic tastes, who look good in suits and can yodel their way through whatever dross they’ve been given. The effect is astounding.

Il Divo
Il Divo

Their set is cliché after cliché but it’s amazingly entertaining. Although they all get to sing a couple of lines on their own, every song culminates in a four-part harmony sing-off with each one of them jostling for position as alpha-male, resulting in them all singing too loudly to the point where they drown out the backing, upsetting each other’s intonation in the process.

Isabel, based around Faure’s Pavane, was accompanied with a GCSE bitesize modern languages display as the French for ‘searching’ intermingled with the German for ‘heart’ across the back wall.

Even better than the singing was the patter between songs. Crudely scripted and stiltedly delivered, we learnt how much they loved us and appreciated us but also how thankful they were to their mothers for bringing them in to the world, which led to the best dedication of the night when Mama was prefaced with ‘this one goes out to all the mothers here in the house.’

It was everything you could want from a Westlife gig, and more. After an inexplicable instrumental version of Live And Let Die, they reappeared in lounge suits to knock out a few songs that utilised the tried and tested combination of getting off your stool in time with the key change.

Their original tracks would be derided if they appeared as Eurovision entries for Switzerland, but strangely you get swept away with the Shirley Valentine escapism of it all. As a live show, it’s aural candyfloss – the excitement of having them there in front of you outweighs the complete and utter lack of substance.

What’s worrying is that their soulless renditions of Unchained Melody or My Way are the tunes that will go on to play a part in some of the most ceremonious occasions in people’s lives, like weddings and funerals, and there’s something distinctly uncheering about one man’s avarice distorting true sentiment.

last updated: 19/04/06
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