Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Big Reunion 2014 Live: Review

ITV2 seemed to be scraping the barrel with the 2014 series of The Big Reunion. After last year's nostalgia-inducing extravaganza that included 90s and 00s heavyweights Blue, 5ive, Atomic Kitten and B*Witched, the likes of 3T and Girl Thing in this year's line-up initially seemed rather underwhelming. 

The big draw this year was the reunion of R&B/pop trio Eternal. The biggest girlband of the 90s, until the Spice Girls came along, Easther, Vernie and Kelle (and Louise for the first album) had a long string of huge singles and even a couple of million-selling albums. After a bitter split in the late 90s, the two sisters became a duo, but they managed no more than a forgotten top 20 hit in 1999, What'cha Gonna Do. Fast forward 15 years and the girls have reunited with Kelle and absolutely stole the show at The Big Reunion 2014 live at the Hammersmith Apollo. Lead singer Easther's powerhouse voice certainly hasn't dimmed over the years and she was by far the strongest vocalist of the night, with a set of lungs to rival the big US divas. It seems such a shame that her talent is so rarely showcased these days.

The girls performed debut hit Stay and the top three hits Someday and Don't You Love Me, the latter as part of a medley with the excellent Power Of A Woman. But the performance of the night, as I expected it might be, was that of their classic 1997 UK No.1 single I Wanna Be The Only One. The band managed to persuade gospel singer BeBe Winans, who provided the male vocal on the original track, to sing with them and the performance was incredible. Arguably one of the most feel-good songs of all time with the uplifting melody and multiple key changes that keep on taking it up a notch, it was vocally flawless and the girls all looked amazing. It deservedly received by far the biggest reception of the night and almost made you think that out of all of the bands here, perhaps they are the one that could still be relevant to today's music industry. The only thing missing from their set was perhaps the stunning and highly underrated 1997 single Angel Of Mine (later a US No.1 for Monica) which I'd have personally rather heard than Someday. 

English-Norwegian band A1, formerly a quartet but a trio since 2002, kicked off the night with an energetic performance of their A-Ha cover Take On Me. They showed that they still had the moves with some impressive dance routines. The programme appears to have completely glossed over the fact that they reformed a few years ago and have been releasing mature pop hits (of the Take That 2.0 sort of ilk) in Norway since 2009. They even entered Norway's Eurovision selection show in 2010 with the excellent Don't Wanna Lose You Again, but it finished second so nobody outside of Norway ever knew about it. But they are a completely different band now, and the A1 that we saw at Hammersmith was the band that they probably haven't been for years. The folky-pop anthem Caught In The Middle (for which they brought instruments on stage - their only appearance of the night) and gorgeous ballad Everytime still fit seamlessly into their modern-day repertoire but the high energy dance routines and big performances of their two 2000 No.1 hits, the aforementioned Take On Me and Same Old Brand New You, probably mark the first time that the band have broken out into those dance routines in a good while. They informed the audience that it was the first time they'd performed at the Hammersmith Apollo for 14 years!

The enthusiastic audience was packed full of people of all different ages, but mostly people in their 20s and 30s who'd grown up with the bands. There were also a number of celebrities sitting and watching including Kian Egan from Westlife, who is married to Girl Thing member Jodi, Anthony Costa from Blue, Scott Robinson from 5ive and Michelle Heaton from Liberty X (who all took to this very stage this time last year), presenter Vanessa Feltz, James 'Arg' Argent from The Only Way Is Essex and Keith Lemon. And those were just the ones that I saw, or actually spoke to in the case of Arg, during the generous 20 minute interval! 

The audience were appreciative of all the acts but sat down on some of the ballads, of which there were a few. The show didn't quite seem like a sell-out as there seemed to be a few empty seats, which suggests that doing an arena tour for this year's line-up might not work in the way that it did for the higher profile groups featured on the show last year. But the crowd made enough noise at the right moments that you wouldn't know it. 

Girl Thing seemed genuinely appreciative to be given a second chance, having only managed the one proper hit single back in 2000. Even then, the UK No.8 hit Last One Standing was far from the smash that their manager Simon Cowell had anticipated. That performance was fun, bubbly and colourful and so were their performances of top 30 hit Girls On Top, a cover of Katy Perry's Roar and more interestingly a version of Pure & Simple by Hear'say, a song that Girl Thing recorded before the Popstars winners but never got to release in this country. 

3T, a trio of brothers who are sons of Tito Jackson, and therefore nephews to Michael Jackson, paid tribute to their uncle at countless points throughout the evening. Their huge 1996 hit Anything was well received by the crowd but I Need You was supported by a backdrop video of the band with their legendary relative, which received huge cheers from the crowd. When they performed Why, their 1996 collaboration with Michael, the original music video played on the screen behind them. Their other performance was a cover of Lionel Richie's Stuck On You which was an interesting choice that worked well. Despite not being the band that everybody probably flocked to see, they did very well and their performances all got a warm reception.

Of the other two boybands, I personally found Damage the least interesting although they got a surprisingly huge reaction from the audience, possibly bigger than anyone else right at the start. Eric Clapton cover Wonderful Tonight and other hits Forever and Love II Love were nice enough, and vocally strong, but they were never particularly my cup of tea. Their first performance of the night however, the 2000 top ten hit Ghetto Romance was excellent. I haven't listened to the song in many years but it was evidently quite ahead of its time as it would have been a perfect, and very credible, single for a band like JLS or Rough Copy. Its Timbaland-esque production is still quite current today. 

And finally the boyband created especially for the show, 5th Story, which consists of Pop Idol runner up Gareth Gates, Kavana, Adam Rickitt, Dane Bowers from Another Level and Kenzie from Blazin' Squad. As a band they mostly seemed quite slick, and all got a chance to perform at least one of their biggest hits as part of this new group. Dane took the lead on their opening performance Freak Me, Kavana with the disco favourite I Can Make You Feel Good and Adam Rickitt on his 1999 hit I Breathe Again, a song that I certainly never expected to see live. The Blazin' Squad section was a medley of Flip Reverse and the 2002 No.1 hit Crossroads, which gave Kenzie his chance to shine.

As a group, Dane, Kenzie, Adam and Kavana seemed quite cohesive. But for me Gareth looked slightly awkward alongside them at times. However, the angel faced popstar came into his own for the show's finale, a cover of Spirit In The Sky, which Gareth took to No.1 in 2003. He led the performance and it was a huge sing-along moment which he pulled off really well with the other four acting as backing vocalists on the song. I'm still not sold on the concept of 5th Story as a band, and they'd probably be unlikely to have any success with new material, but as a vehicle for giving each former solo artist or band member a chance to sing their own hits with the other members acting as backup, it worked very well. The other acts joined 5th Story and the show's presenter, 90s legend Andi Peters, on the stage right at the end of the show for a final ensemble performance.

Maybe not quite the wall-to-wall hit packed extravaganza of The Big Reunion 2013, this year's show was nevertheless highly entertaining, and with one less act than last year, it gave each group the chance to sing four or five songs each. A night full of pyrotechnics, lasers, confetti and more meant that no expense was spared on the concert, which will be broadcast on ITV2 on March 27th. But every act here gave it absolutely everything and were enjoyable to some extent. The lesser-known Girl Thing may have had to work harder to win over the crowd, but they eventually had by their third and fourth performances. Damage, 3T, A1 and 5th Story were all a huge hit with the female members of the audience, and admittedly all gave mostly very slick performances, but it was Eternal who were for me the headline act that made the show worth watching. If there was to be a third series, and it seems unlikely given the calibre of some of the acts in this year's show compared to the last series, I'd request All Saints, S Club 7, The Corrs, East 17, Precious and Hear'say to start off with. Come on ITV2, can you make it happen?


A1 - Take On Me
Eternal - Stay
5th Story - Freak Me
Damage - Ghetto Romance
Girl Thing - Girls On Top
3T - Anything
5th Story - I Can Make You Feel Good
A1 - Caught In The Middle
Damage - Wonderful Tonight
Girl Thing - Roar
3T - I Need You
Eternal - Don't You Love Me/Power Of A Woman (medley)
5th Story - Flip Reverse/Crossroads/I Breathe Again (medley)
Girl Thing - Last One Standing
Girl Thing - Pure & Simple
3T - Stuck On You
3T - Why
A1 - Everytime
A1 - Same Old Brand New You
Damage - Forever
Damage - Love II Love
Eternal - Someday
Eternal feat Bebe Winans - I Wanna Be The Only One
5th Story - Spirit In The Sky
All - Spirit In The Sky

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