Let the words “20th anniversary” sink in. It has been 20 years since boy bands like A1, Westlife and the Backstreet Boys dominated MTV and radio airwaves. Of course, if you go to Youtube and watch some of their music videos, it would start making sense. The hairstyles were silly. The choreographies were awful. And the puppy love their songs speak of will make you cringe. But as A1 opened with “Same Old Brand New You”, I realized that some things have changed, but a lot has stayed the same.
I will begin by stating the most glaring constant. The jams that were ear candy before continue to be a pleasure to listen to. I can’t imagine any music era denying glory to classics like “Summertime of Our Lives”, “Take on Me” and “Like a Rose”. Maybe fewer people are going gaga over their sound nowadays. But in that theater, A1 owned the crowd and everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs. This was the kind of music the had fans going crazy, even to the extent of a stampede in Indonesia in the early 2000s. Don’t get me wrong. Drake’s music is fantastic. But this generation is missing out on pop gems from the likes of A1.
The foursome weren’t the best dancers of their generation. But it’s fun to witness them on stage continuing to groove, trying to be harmoniously in sync, and showing their moves from the 90s (no matter how foolish some of it appears to be). They even got the audience to dance along to the awkward steps of “Ready or Not”. Refer to the music video if you want to be terrified. But when the entire audience is up on their feet, not giving a fuck how this behavior might be deemed inappropriate for any self-respecting adult, I couldn’t help but join the bandwagon when everyone else is doing the same. Call it peer pressure. Just the same, it felt like a relief, letting my true nerdy self take over.
My two cents – Mark’s moves have gotten better in time and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it. Ben has stayed equally great and looks comfortable on stage. Christian appears to be doing it so that he can pay his bills. Lastly, Paul looks like he’s playing catch up. If I had to guess, his stamina needs improvement as it’s his first time back since he took a longer hiatus than the rest of the band.
One tricky part of concerts is the setlist. If an artist has a vast music discography, what is the right catalog to play? There are artists who refuse to be defined by their past and often sing from their latest records. Take an example, Madonna. While it may satisfy her and some newfound fans, it tends to disappoint the majority of the crowd who fell in love with the classics. While the reverse direction tends to please, it makes an artist’s newly created masterpieces take the backseat.
I felt A1 nailed this dilemma by making “The Medley of the Songs We Never Did”. They sang seven album tracks which never made the cut of their previous tours. Honestly, I knew none of these selections (“Here Comes the Rain”, “I’ll Take the Tears”, “Tomorrow”, “Make it Through the Night”, “Hey You”, “When I’m Missing You” and “The Things We Never Did”). But I could tell they had a blast doing it and I was happy for the hardcore fans that were gushing over material that finally saw the light of day.
The band also has a great sense of humor. They have aged, gone through the drama of disbanding and lost the stardom they once possessed. It’s refreshing to hear them be self aware and acknowledge all those things during their show.
Ageing for rock bands can be glamorous. But pop stars who’ve built careers on looks and fads tend to have a following with little loyalty. The charisma and charm of these same artists do not last and make them prone to disappearing from the limelight.
A1 constantly acknowledged the reality they’re dealt with today – making fun of themselves for (1) needing to perform while sitting down from time to time, (2) exhaustion creeping in, and (3) the bedtime they now have when the show was nearing its end. It’s all part of a joke but the truth in these comments is not lost on them.
Some mature moment came in when Paul gave props to the trio who stayed together. As a tribute, he sang a composition A1 made when he left. And the newly reformed foursome were quick to pick up on the majority of the crowd not being in touch with their latest single “Armour”, even if it’s available in Spotify.
The band has been through a lot and their sound has evolved. They aren’t as famous as they used to be. But seeing them on stage was fulfilling as you can see artists having the time of their lives. Their energy is infectious. Their passion shines through. And for a moment, they take you back 20 years ago and demonstrate the timelessness of pop music.