Westlife find second wind

The boy band still have solid vocals, boyish good looks and pop star charisma

Westlife (comprising from left, Kian Egan, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Nicky Byrne) relied heavily on their catalogue of greatest hits.
Westlife (comprising from left, Kian Egan, Shane Filan, Mark Feehily and Nicky Byrne) relied heavily on their catalogue of greatest hits.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR



National Stadium/Last Saturday

Comeback shows by boy bands from the 1990s and early 2000s can either go the successful "man band" route of Take That - with new songs, slick dance routines and spectacular stage productions, or the Boyzone route - with mostly in-sync moves, passable four-part harmonies and a minimal stage set-up.

Thankfully, Irish pop quartet Westlife's return to the stage after a six-year hiatus was the former - the "Westlife 2.0" they had promised when they came to Singapore on a promotional trip earlier this year.

Playing to a crowd of 20,000 at the National Stadium, Westlife members Nicky Byrne, 40, Kian Egan, 38, Mark Feehily, 39, and Shane Filan, 40, seem to have gotten bigger and better since their last show here in 2011, with the confidence afforded by their 20 years in the industry shining through.

It seemed a brave choice to kick off their 90-minute set with a new song, the strident Hello My Love. But it was a rallying call to get behind this upgraded Westlife, who still possess solid vocals, boyish good looks and pop star charisma.

The group's new album, Spectrum, is not coming out till November, so the set list relied heavily on their catalogue of greatest hits.

But whether it was ballads like Swear It Again or If I Let You Go, or upbeat tunes like When You're Looking Like That, it was singalong hit after hit, making for a massive karaoke session. The crowd dutifully belted out the words, despite not having the words on screen.

Filan handled most of the lead vocal duties, but Feehily stood out with his impressive vocal runs.

Egan and Byrne showed they were perfectly capable of hitting the big notes too, on a medley of songs by British rock legend Queen in the second half of the concert.

An acoustic part of the show in which they did a stripped-back version of I Have A Dream, Unbreakable and Fool Again showcased just how stellar their harmonies still are as a group.

Along with several outfit changes - from military jackets to sharp red and black suits, to black leather and denim ensembles - the members pointed out how hot it was at the venue, with Byrne saying "I feel like we're doing a show in a sauna".

But whether it was Byrne reminiscing about their first visit here, or Filan wishing the crowd "Happy 54th birthday Singapore!" for National Day, their rehearsed banter came across as easy and unaffected.

It was a special night for an Irish woman invited on stage for a surprise proposal, with the group serenading the happy couple with one of their new singles, Better Man.

Like Hello My Love, it was written by British pop super star Ed Sheeran and romantic in the feel-good style of a Westlife love song from the good old days.

It was fitting that for their encore, the group returned on stage in all-white suits reminiscent of the height of 2000s boy band fashion.

The best crowd singing was reserved for the karaoke staple Flying Without Wings, complete with the group recreating the dramatic, outstretched arms from the music video, followed by a catchy Bruno Mars-style, horn-laced version of World Of Our Own.

The finale songs were the perfect combination of old and new Westlife - a group that proved, if anything, that they have successfully found their second wind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2019, with the headline 'Westlife find second wind'. Subscribe