Girls Aloud: They cranked it up, and there was no real let-up
The return of Girls Aloud to the stage can't have taken many people by surprise.
Following the relative failure of certain members' solo careers, and with the likes of the Saturdays and Little Mix cleaning up in their four-year absence, the temptation to reclaim their place in the pop hierarchy must have been too great for the 2000s' top girl group to ignore.
These days, it may be more like Women Aloud, but Cheryl Cole, Nadine Coyle, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh still look stunning as they totter into their 30s.
And last night's sold-out Odyssey Arena show – to be followed by a second tonight – proves there's still a massive audience for the band's arch brand of supercharged electronic pop.
The English-Irish act's comeback tour has been hung on a decade-spanning best-of collection, entitled Ten (definitely not to be confused with the Stranglers or Pearl Jam albums of the same name).
"Ten years," remarked resident Northern Ireland member Coyle, expressing mock astonishment in her unaffected Londonderry accent.
"What is that all about?"
What it was all about was a career-charting, crowd-pleasing set list that delivered hit after hit after hit.
Admirably, the reunited Girls Aloud went for broke, giving the party-ready throng of twenty-something females, excitable teenagers, gay couples and the odd ironic hipster exactly what they had come for, in neat, near-chronological order.
The high-end presentation began with the girls descending from the Odyssey roof on a shiny metal platform that bore their logo, singing their debut – and still brilliantly catchy – single Sound of the Underground.
Second single No Good Advice came next, keeping the pulsating rhythms and synchronised dance moves going.
"I'm a wee bit nervous," giggled the ever-pouting Coyle, somewhat unconvincingly, as dry ice poured on to the stage for the ballad Life Got Cold, a rare lowish-key moment.
Wake Me Up and a cover of the Pointer Sisters' Jump cranked things back up again, and from that point, there was no real let-up for nearly the next two hours.
Love Machine, Can't Speak French, Something Kinda Oooh and the rest of the outfit's back catalogue sounded superb, regaling the arena with a wash of synths, disco drumbeats and anthemic choruses.
Indeed, the only thing stripped-down about the show was the number of notes the singers hit.
From Coyle's caterwaul to Roberts' warble, none of the vocals was anything to write home about, but at least they were performed live and at least they had character.
Speaking of 'character', the quintet are almost a living cartoon at this point, and Cole – who headlined the same venue on her solo tour last year – seems to remain the fans' favourite.
In fact, the only person who got a bigger cheer than the diminutive ex-X Factor judge last night was a well-toned male dancer who whipped off his T-shirt.
Production-wise – and apart from an unusual moment when the ladies emerged sporting Native American head-dresses and angel wings – costume changes took a back seat to pyrotechnics, lights, dancers, video screens playing nostalgic scenes from the past decade and the now obligatory journey over the heads of the crowd on a hydraulic platform to a secondary podium in the centre of the arena.
"What's the craic?" asked Coyle once they got there, adding with an incongruously responsible air for an arena pop concert: "Has everybody – over 18 – got a drink in their hand?"
Perhaps the Derry star, who mentioned that she had several friends and family members in the crowd, was on her best behaviour.
Token new songs On the Metro and the cheekily monikered Something New might not signal a second decade of massive chart success but, despite the comparatively subdued reception, they were as accomplished as anything else on offer.
The evening ended on a wildly camp rendition of The Promise, the girls modelling sparkly red dresses, backed by a dozen or so male and female dancers in top hats and bow ties, with confetti falling from the ceiling.
Even if they don't make it to another 10 years, Girls Aloud certainly made a lasting impression on their Belfast fan base last night.