Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Big Reunion 2014 @ The Hammersmith Apollo

Going into the gig for this year's Big Reunion there were a number of unanswered questions.  How would 5th Story work as a band?  Would there be any special guests, like Blue in last year's show?  Who in A1 would takeover tambourine duties?  Would Girl Thing actually have any songs to sing?

The show answered these questions and provided more.  Where, for instance, was Coree from Damage?  And why is Andi Peters so underused as a compère?  Of course we'll find out the background to the show in future episodes, but for now the acts can only be judged by this performance - one that was full of nostalgic thrills, but a little lacklustre compared to last year.

A1 are one of this series' biggest acts and they provided a high energy opening with their cover of Take On Me.  Their performance was perhaps the most varied, including the self-penned ballad Caught In The Middle (with live instruments!) and the typically boyband Same Old Brand New You.  Ben was a clear leader with his nasal vocals and boyish looks, but even as a group they outshone the other male three-piece 3T.  The Jackson brothers have far less memorable tracks, all ballads and all dedicated to their uncle who was splashed across the screens - frustrating when most gigs show the acts on screen rather than just a backdrop.  Clearly 3T are no longer bothered about separating themselves from their family and with their hair twists and tracksuits, they are little more than a 90s novelty.

The same could be said of Damage.  Vocally their tight R&B harmonies are strong and they still have the slick dance moves of before plus a far cooler style compared with the sappy 3T.  What they don't have are any decent songs, except perhaps their cover of Wonderful Tonight.  Many thought the same of Girl Thing, who themselves noted "we never expected to get this reaction".  And although their set included a decent enough cover of Katy Perry's Roar, the now ironically titled Last One Standing perhaps should have made it to number one all those years ago.  The girls are very competent performers, though they lack the individual personalities of their Spice Girl rivals - perhaps these will shine through in future episodes.  At the least, their performance of Pure and Simple allowed them to sing the song how it was always meant to be done.

Eternal were arguably the headliners of the evening and vocally they were undoubtedly the most assured.  The previous fallout between Kelly and the Bennett sisters seemed to be largely forgotten as they belted out Stay and Power of a Woman.  Yet disappointingly they didn't perform Just A Step From Heaven.  More disappointing was that the gig didn't end with I Wanna Be The Only One, clearly the biggest hit of the night with its joyous, multiple key changes and even Bebe Winans joining the girls on stage.

Surprisingly, then, it was 5th Story who proved the most entertaining of the night.  The problem with the gig as a whole was that most of the acts (bar A1 and Eternal) are one hit wonders, so the lack of hit songs ultimately fell flat.  With 5th Story (comprising five solo performers, each with their own hits), each member took turns to take the lead with the others providing backing vocals and dancing, meaning we had five hits instead of just one.  Adam Rickett looked awkward singing I Breathe Again (this time without the glass box); Kenzie led an audience sing-along of Blazin' Squad's Crossroads; Another Level's Freak Me was very much a group number; and Kavana showed great showmanship with his performance of I Can Make You Feel Good.  Gareth Gates' cover of Spirit In The Sky provided an anti-climactic finale, representative of the evening as a whole.  Despite the series build-up, this year's acts simply aren't of the same calibre as last year.  This might have been an enjoyable evening, but a third series is looking increasingly unlikely.