Belfast Telegraph

Belfast goes crazy for Westlife

You know a band are popular when the crowd is going nuts before they've even taken the stage.

The party atmosphere at last night's first of three Westlife shows at the Odyssey Arena began with the appearance of the boy band members on the video screens.

Shane got a cheer. Kian got a roar. Nicky got a deafening, bloodcurdling scream. And Mark ... Well, Mark seems to be Westlife's Ringo, but the response was still louder than you would get for Kiss, Metallica and Green Day put together.

Westlife's entrance would have shamed these rock titans, too. The intro music was like the Star Wars theme having a fight with the Superman theme, while the stage set looked like the Armagh Planetarium on crack.

The four singers appeared onstage clad top to toe in studded black leather, sporting haircuts that probably cost more than my car.

They kicked off with a one-two punch of über-ballad What About Now and the actually-quite-rocking When You're Looking Like That.

This set the formula for the evening — a ballad followed by an upbeat tune, and the fans loved every minute of it.

The capacity crowd was made up mainly of girls from six to 60, but there were a few dads and husbands in there, too — and everyone sang themselves hoarse.

It was impossible to resist the bouncy charm of anthems like Mandy, Shadows and Billy Joel's Uptown Girl.

They even had a crack at Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back in Town (with Kian on guitar!), and it wasn't half bad.

The show was the opening night of the tour to promote Westlife's new album Where We Are, but it was just as much a greatest hits set.

And what hits. You don't sell 40 million records and score 14 number ones — almost as many as the Beatles — without knowing a good tune when Louis Walsh hears one.

Boyzone may be cuter. Take That may be quirkier. But Westlife are certainly the most charismatic of the boy bands, and they had the Belfast audience in the palm of their hands for the duration of this two-hour extravaganza.

No expense had been spared. There were costume changes, at least three major set changes and what looked like the plans for the Death Star on the video screens.

But the focus was on the four guys. Their dancing wasn't up to much, but they were clearly having the time of their lives up there. When Nicky asked if the crowd had missed them, I thought my glasses were going to shatter with the volume of the response.

Indeed, the fans were so loud it was hard to tell how the boys' voices are holding up after an astonishing 11 years at the top of their game.

Boyzone may be cuter. Take That may be quirkier. But Westlife are certainly the most charismatic of the boy bands, and they had the Belfast audience in the palm of their hands for the duration of this two-hour extravaganza.

ANDREW JOHNSTON

Belfast Telegraph

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