Review: Girls Aloud at Capital FM Arena
If this isn't the Girls Aloud farewell tour, then it's certainly doing a good impression of one. After just over ten years at the top – or seven years plus an extended break, if you're being picky – the girls are coming towards the end of a tour that celebrates their past achievements: twenty-one hit singles, seven big-selling albums, and a career that has defied all expectations.
"This is our penultimate show", said Kimberley. "That's the one before last", she added, just in case we were struggling with the word "penultimate". With just twenty-four hours left on the Girls Aloud clock, this made for an emotionally charged night. At times, some of the girls looked close to tears (especially Sarah, whose top lip seemed particularly prone to quivering), but for the most part, they seemed determined to have as much fun as possible (especially Cheryl, who looked like she was having an absolute blast from start to end). The smiles were real, the enjoyment was never forced, and the party mood onstage gradually infected the initially reserved crowd, allowing us to give them the warmest of send-offs.
While lesser acts might have been happy to shuffle on and off stage from the wings, Girls Aloud had grander schemes. They began the show suspended in mid air, perched on top of a platform that spelt out their name. The same platform re-appeared mid-show, lifting the girls from the main stage and slowly transporting them to a specially constructed rear platform. At other times, the performers simply popped up through holes in the floor, freshly changed and ready for the next sequence.
The set list took us through the group's hit-making career in near-chronological order, starting with Sound Of The Underground – the winners' song from 2002's Popstars: The Rivals – and finishing with last year's comeback single, Something New. It was a guided tour through one of the most consistently inventive catalogues in recent pop history, with songs that plundered fifty years of musical styles – new wave, electro-pop, eurodance, rock & roll, disco, blues and show tunes alike – and bent them into an instantly recognisable signature sound, topping them with witty, surreal and leftfield lyrics.
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If the crowd seemed slow to respond at first, an absolutely banging version of Jump brought everyone alive, as the girls worked every corner of the stage, accompanied by eleven tirelessly energetic dancers. Switching from burlesque-inspired outfits to Mardi Gras-style head-dresses and wings, they paraded down an extended catwalk for The Show, twirling their outsized carnival costumes. This massed catwalk strut proved to be a favourite move, as the girls seized every opportunity to work their runway, pouting and vamping like seasoned supermodels.
"This is our favourite part of the show" said Nicola, as the group arrived on the rear stage for a three-song set. But while those at the back of the arena enjoyed their enhanced view, the fans at the front were left somewhat in limbo, many still facing towards the main stage. Stronger songs would have helped to bridge the gap, but this was where the chronological approach started to wear thin, revealing a certain drop-off in excitement compared to those brilliantly inventive early hits. In retrospect, this was probably an attempt by the group's songwriting team to steer the group into more mature waters – but Girls Aloud were always at their best when at their brashest and brattiest.
With that in mind, perhaps it makes sense to call it a day after ten years, while the girls can still be brash enough and bratty enough. It's difficult to imagine them performing songs like No Good Advice and Something Kinda Ooooh once they hit their mid-thirties, and so perhaps they shouldn't even try. Instead, let's remember them at their peak: fondly serenading both us and each other with I'll Stand By You, then sending us home with The Promise, their biggest hit of all.
"Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts", said Cheryl. "Not only for tonight, but also for the last ten years." Girls Aloud, we're going to miss you. Sure, you're only a daft little pop group – but you're also one hell of a classy act.
Set list: Sound of the Underground, No Good Advice, Life Got Cold, Wake Me Up, Jump, The Show, Love Machine, Whole Lotta History, Can't Speak French, Biology, Sexy! No No No..., Untouchable, On the Metro, Call the Shots, Something Kinda Ooooh, Call Me Maybe, Beautiful 'Cause You Love Me, Something New, I'll Stand By You, The Promise.