Westlife at Croke Park: ‘Honestly, guys, I’ve cried about three times already today’

Shane Filan promises the best Westlife concert ever. I bet he says that to all the crowds

Nicky Byrne, Markus Feehily, Shane Filan and Kian Egan. Photograph: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns

Nicky Byrne, Markus Feehily, Shane Filan and Kian Egan. Photograph: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns

 

The year is 2019, the location is Croke Park and Westlife are celebrating 20 years of hits (even though they were inactive for six of those) on their astutely named Twenty Tour.

As they open with their most recent single, 2018’s Hello My Love and a small burst of fireworks, the Sligo-Dublin quartet kick off with the new so that they can dive right into the old.

They are fans of the keychange and masters of standing up from a stool to signify said keychange. Swear It Again started it all for them in 1999 and it officially gets things started in Croker, the same venue where they finished off their farewell tour in 2012.

Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times
Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

Riding on the waves of Boyzone’s last days of success, Swear It Again brought boybands into the millennium with a seemingly never-ending slew – 14 to be exact – of number one singles.

The stage is kept clear of all bands, bells and whistles, with only a backdrop of giant screens and their swirling visuals so that all we see is Nicky Byrne, Cian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan standing at, well, average height in their extremely tailored army officer uniforms.

“Honestly, guys. I’ve probably cried about three times already today... This was the night we were looking forward to the most,” says Filan, before promising that this will be the best Westlife concert ever. I bet he says that to all the crowds.

In pictures: Westlife live at Croke Park

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Tapping into Irish pride almost immediately with My Love – as much an ode to the Cliffs of Moher and a sod of turf as it is to the human object of their affections – these twinkly-eyed national treasures haven’t lost their spark, even if they leave a trail of failed solo careers and Eurovision entries behind them.

Westlife perform in front of 75,000 fans in Croke Park on Friday night, the first of two Dublin gigs on their 20th anniversary tour. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times
Westlife perform in front of 75,000 fans in Croke Park on Friday night, the first of two Dublin gigs on their 20th anniversary tour. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

A sentimental homecoming, the passing of time is mentioned regularly and all of the Westlife kids join their dads onstage for a selfie and to present Filan, who turns 40 this weekend, with a cake.

More notably, Feehily, who came out in 2005, tells us that he and his partner are expecting a baby, adding that “20 years ago, who would have known that Ireland would become one of the best countries to live in”.

When it’s Byrne turn on the mic for some mid-song banter, he thanks the ladies for getting their “tan and nails” done for the night and asks the lads that have been “dragged” here to cheer like they’re watching their favourite sports team.

Following in the footsteps of Take That’s slick and sturdy 2006 reboot, which shows no signs of stopping, and Backstreet Boys’ under-the-radar continuance, Westlife’s floppy-haired and puppy-eyed looks of the early 00s are no more. Before us we have a fully-formed manband.

Dancing only occasionally – their choreography relies on hand gestures and sincere facial expressions that go into overdrive during their version of Barry Manilow’s Mandy – they ride on charm, power ballads and strong vocals.

Westlife concert at Croke Park. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times
Westlife concert at Croke Park. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times
One of 75,000 Westlife fans in Croke Park on Friday. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times
One of 75,000 Westlife fans in Croke Park on Friday. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

Perhaps unnecessarily, a Queen medley is thrown into the mix and while they have top-quality bangers in When You’re Looking Like That, Uptown Girl and World of Our Own – the absence of Bop Bop Baby is duly noted – the abundance of ballads means that they have to look elsewhere to rouse spirits. But, listen, it’s better than Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody and it doesn’t go on for half as long.

One would think you should get the full Westlife catalogue rather than Queen’s but here we are. They finally whip out the stools for this segment and, with the warm welcome they receive, some might say that stools are the fifth member of Westlife.

Before an emotional rendition of You Raise Me Up, Egan says that they hope to pull a Rolling Stones and go for another 20 years. The almighty singalong to Flying Without Wings suggests they have more than a handful of people who will appreciate it if they do.

Seventy-thousand people flocked to this, the first of two nights at Croke Park and the last venue of the European leg of their tour. Banners and flags from Austria, Chile, China, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa prove that the appeal of Westlife is impassioned, unwavering, local and international.

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