Eurovision In Concert 2012 review

Twenty-four of this year’s entrants played to a club packed full of fanboys in Amsterdam last night. This event has quickly become a mini-Eurovision in itself, albeit in a very different arena to the contest. It’s the first chance to assess first-hand the live singing abilities of many of the contestants, though there are always some acts that turn up and mime.

Covering the event for Sofabet, becoming our very own foreign correspondent, was eurovicious. Those who have followed our country-by-country previews have come to expect a brilliant, take-no-prisoners set of comments from the man in question. He has worked on the contest before, has numerous contacts associated with it, and his anonymity has to be protected as a result.

That’s lucky for our readers, as it ensures he can tell us what he really thinks. Which he frequently does. Here’s his take on festivities last night:

First of all, there were no disasters – all of the invited artists knew their trade and could sing, perform, and work the stage to a greater or lesser degree. (Yes, even San Marino.) Many of the performances were pretty much what you’d expect from having viewed the national final performance or song presentation online, so rather than go through and analyse each country in order, I’m going to focus on what stood out, the surprises, what was better than expected and what was worse.

While it’s obviously not possible to extrapolate the reaction of an audience of 1350 pretty hardcore fans (including many who’d flown in specially) to that of viewers on the night, one thing the evening underscored for me is that when it comes to Eurovision, people love a catchy song they can sing along to.

Sometimes even just having a single memorable, repeatable hook in an otherwise non-English song helps a lot (as in the case of Romania, which was a lot of fun and went down really well). This may seem like an unsurprising observation, but the audience in the venue connected noticeably better with the catchy, repetitive, upbeat songs in English than with the others. And crucially, I’m by no means only talking about the typical “fanwank” songs here.

One of the main revelations of the night for me was how well the few rock songs went down, especially Switzerland. ‘Unbreakable’ was tremendously performed by Sinplus and went down an absolute storm – everyone was singing along. Similarly, Hungary’s Compact Disco were also excellent though obviously more subdued, and the singer, to my pleasant surprise, had no vocal problems and sang the song fine.

Who was most vocally impressive? Sabina Babayeva (who performed the second half of ‘When The Music Dies’ in Azeri) and Pastora Soler both gave tremendous vocal performances, in the latter case bringing the house down (though there was certainly an element of “fanwank” to the reaction Spain received in the venue). Albania is my favourite ballad in the contest and Rona Nishliu was a vocal powerhouse, but her voice was slightly shoutier and less rounded than I expected, though the very high notes in the song’s bridge before the final reprise of the, erm, “chorus”, were stunning – the vocal showstopper of the evening.

But the real revelation of the night was… Donny Montell. I cannot emphasise enough the quality of his voice, how well he uses it, and how much he elevated the otherwise relatively pedestrian ‘Love Is Blind’ through a superb vocal performance, especially in the song’s first half. Simply put, the boy put it down, and this to me was both the evening’s primary insight and its biggest, most pleasant surprise.

Who was vocally weakest? I’d have to say the two youngest, least experienced performers: Belgium’s Iris and Slovenia’s Eva Boto. Iris brought a playful innocence to her performance which I think worked in her favour, so while her higher notes generally wavered between being a little too weak and a little too shouty, ultimately I felt this merely added to the endearing sense of girlishness she conveyed.

Eva Boto, however, was far too quiet in the first half of her song and in fact wasn’t even properly audible until the first chorus – though after that she was fine, and the louder second half of the song was effective. But all in all, I now feel she’s been saddled with a song that is simply too mature for her. Iris and ‘Would You?’ suit each other well, Eva and ‘Verjamem’ much less so.

Who didn’t sing live? Only two acts: Romania, and (I was later told) San Marino. We all knew Valentina was about to appear when a laptop was ominiously and unceremoniously deposited on stage, immediately generating a palpable sense of dread in not just myself. And the reason she didn’t sing live? Terrifyingly, ‘The Social Network Song’ has a full-on dance routine – picture her dance moves in the video, then extrapolate to 3 minutes.

Valentina, who is surprisingly short in real life, wore her blue outfit from the video (leading someone next to me to comment “Does she only have that one t-shirt?”) and was accompanied by two similarly-attired backing dancers wearing Britney-style head mics. The routine was pure 1990s Ralph Siegel (see Germany’s 1994 Eurovision entry by girl group Mekado). At two points, Monetta interrupted the dance routine to move over to the laptop and manically pretend to type. The whole affair screams “nul points”.

Meanwhile, in the non-shit corner, Romania were incredibly energetic and well-rehearsed – they have the dance down to a T – but having been unable to judge the vocal, I can’t comment further on their performance, other than to say the accordion guy was suitably manic.

Who filled the stage best, despite not having any dancers or musicians? Can Bonomo and Pasha Parfeny. The former in particular was superb: eccentrically dancing around the stage in a black outfit, he cut a surprisingly Lena-like figure and gave one of the most enjoyable and memorable performances of the night. It got people moving and really stood out from the crowd. Pasha was also charismatic and worked the stage well, really getting the audience going with his infectious number.

What went down best in the venue? Obviously Joan Franka, who delighted the home crowd in a bright magenta dress and with a single feather in her hair rather than the full-on squaw look. But apart from Ms Franka, it was Jedward who pretty much “shut the building down”. Their choreography was identical to in the Irish national final, so I don’t think we can expect it to change this close to the event – they’ve clearly learned it off by heart.

They did, however, comment that they’re having “spectacular new outfits” made for Baku. I briefly (and thankfully only briefly) found myself relating to George W Bush at the end of their performance as Jedward threw their shoes into the audience and one of them almost hit me. If they try that in Baku, I hope someone issues a fatwa on them.

What went down worst? Without a doubt, Austria. “Stripped” of its dancers and stage show and faced with an audience where next to no-one understood the lyrics, ‘Woki mit deim Popo’ fell – appropriately enough – flat on its arse. The lads performed it fine and really tried to get the audience going, but there was just no connection, which I strongly feel was due to the language barrier much more than the type of audience in the venue.

What was competent yet completely forgettable? France. Sorry love.

The also-rans? Greece was essentially what you’d expect: Eleftheria’s vocal was fine (though there were a lot of backing vocals on the track) and she danced, flirted with the audience and worked the stage well, making her rather weak song much more involving and enjoyable than I might have expected.

Finland was fine and Pernilla brought a double-bass player along with her: the performance was the same pleasant yet unspectacular affair you know from the national final. Latvia’s Anmary sang fine and was impressively vocally powerful in the song’s brief climax. However, Beautiful Song’s bizarreness is merely accentuated by Anmary’s reliance on gestures and facial expressions to convey the song’s narrative (like making an X Factor-style phone sign during the Mick Jagger lyric), making for a weird overall package.

Kaliopi for Macedonia was great and less gravelly voiced than I expected, but her song didn’t really succeed in transcending the language barrier and connecting with the audience. The same was true of ‘Love Unlimited‘ by Bulgaria’s Sofi Marinova. Portugal’s song was impressively performed and arguably did appeal to the audience simply because Filipa delivered it well – not spectacularly but very professionally. Finally, Kurt Calleja for Malta gave a really fun performance of his enjoyable yet lightweight song.

As an addendum to this review, I was also fortunate enough to see Roman Lob live earlier in the week. He was extremely at ease and vocally completely reliable, but I’d almost argue he was too relaxed – while the song is credible, it lacks that special something (it doesn’t really “light your fire”), and I felt his performance, while competent, was too low-key.

All in all, it was a fun and insightful evening, and I’d recommend Eurovision In Concert to anyone who wants to see and hear Eurovision artists perform live a month before the contest and stripped of any staging and pyrotechnics.

35 comments to Eurovision In Concert 2012 review

  • Dug

    Hey eurovicious, great scoop.

    I’ve got a lot of catching up to do but I was actually a little uncomfortable when I realised halfway through the performance that Donny Montell wasn’t really blind. At first I thought “Wow, he’s going to do well” and then I thought “Erm, this guy is whipping off his blindfold and cartwheeling.” In slightly poor taste perhaps? Especially as Eurovision had a blind performer a few years ago, no? And I’m usually a big fan of poor taste.

    • Dug

      P.S. Euphoria is my new favourite thing in the world.

    • eurovicious

      Thanks Dug 🙂 being Sofabet’s answer to Kate Adie was rather fun – beats a wet weekend in Beirut at any rate. Though I can’t overstate the dangers of being a foreign correspondent: avoiding flying shoes thrown by Irish pop-terrorists, withstanding the Kosovan sonic weapon otherwise known as Rona Nishliu, narrowly escaping being in a train crash, and spending several hours in a soundproofed shed full of sweaty Smirnoff-sipping sodomites – I had a whale of a time! In fact I still have glitter shrapnel embedded in my left buttock.

      Apropos Donatas Montvydas (Donny Montell), he’s a veteran of the Lithuanian selection and won their version of Strictly. What made you think he was blind? Dark glasses are one thing, but would a blind singer really wear a blindfold on stage and sing a song called Love Is Blind? Wouldn’t that be overkill, even by Lithuanian standards? Although I was admittedly already familiar with him, to me it was clear the blindfold was a prop tying into the song’s theme. So I don’t see why it’s bad taste – he’s not pretending to be blind, in fact a blindfold implies sightedness by its very nature (and blind people don’t exactly go round wearing them)! Germany sent a blind singer in 2002 with a Ralph Siegel song, and that really was in bad taste – the lyrics were about how she couldn’t live without music and would die without it, it really tried to capitalise on her disability quite crudely and nakedly. It’s a good tune though if you like German schlager/cheese.

    • eurovicious

      Apropos Eurovision, blindfolds and disability, check out this Pashy Parfeny national final number from 2010 that I’ve just turned up. It’s tres Peter Kay…

  • Donald

    Good review Eurovicious, interesting about Switzerland, had a look on YouTube Pastora for Spain was impressive for sure(More head scratching here on Sofabet?)
    Would have been interesting to see how Loreen would have got on with that crowd, and Russia.
    Point taken re France.

    Intrigued how much the increased reach of the songs online nowadays is having an effect on the winner? Had a look at some of the various “my top 42 2012” on YouTube, which there are an ever growing number of and certainly few variables although front runners are there.

    Look forward to next review.

    • eurovicious

      Hi Donald, thanks, I think that’s a really good point – Youtube certainly allows songs to build momentum internationally in the run-up to the contest in a way that just wasn’t possible previously, which is why a lot of punters now use the number of Youtube views to estimate songs’ relative popularities. Despite this, I still think most viewers see the songs for the first time on the evening itself.

      Had Loreen performed, I think she’d have gone down predictably well with an audience of eurofans like that – all the Swedish schlager lovers would have been screaming and soiling themselves and generally living up to the song’s title.

      Russia would have gone down less well, I suspect. I maintain the reason they chose the Babushkas is so they can save money by only buying one plane ticket and just stacking them inside each other.

  • Shai

    Won’t go through the whole show.Just some points of thought

    Spain – She was slightly off tune, and while it’s powerful enough to get everyone’s attention.If she doesn’t carry the tune well it will reach the bottom

    Albania – she has a powerful and strong voice but the song is dreadful.In some of the high notes I had a pain my ears

    Turkey – his drunk like performance was distracting from the song and he should drop it.There was no charm in it.

    Hungary-The lead singer has no charisma.He sing well but is lucking the appeal to lift this song above.

    Malta-Kurt has every stage charisma the Hungarian singer doesn’t have.He mange to actually lift a song I have issues with and sold it totally

    • eurovicious

      Hi Shai – can only agree with your last two points there… Hungary may well not qualify but I doubt Kurt’s likeability will help him much either. The song is too “provincial gay bar in Gozo”. And while I’m not one of the fanboys, I don’t foresee Pastora having any vocal problems on the night – she seems a v professional performer who clearly masters her instrument.

  • Henry VIII

    I read a comment that Jedward didn’t sing live either?

    • faith

      Jedward sang live, There are videos available to prove it 🙂

    • Daniel

      Hi Henry, from what I understand, and the video footage seems to back this up, is that Jedward appeared to sing live over a recording of their track that included their vocals.

      • eurovicious

        Yep, what Daniel said. Vocally they were alright, I thought – they were clearly “singing” live despite the energetic dance routine. There weren’t any moments that struck me as out of tune. After Lipstick last year with its similar pace and dance routine, they’re very well rehearsed (not to mention all the touring they do – they’ve picked up a lot of stage experience).

  • fiveleaves

    Cheers eurovicious.
    I’ve just seen this.
    An excellent review and many thanks.

  • fiveleaves

    btw, when you’re about, or maybe Shai could answer this. Was the Hungarian singer in black leather and looking rather unkempt as he did in the Hungarian final, or did he look a little more clean cut and telegenic?

    • Shai

      If I remember correctly, he was in black,however his luck of charisma and he seemed totally uninterested in this, so he lost me completely.Including not paying attention to what he wore.

      • fiveleaves

        Cheers Shai.
        Vocals can be worked on and hopefully improved, but his lack of charisma, compared with say someone like the lead singer of Manga, looks insurmountable.

        A shame because the song is an excellent one.

      • fiveleaves

        The Israeli singer has a similar problem.
        TBF he’s a pretty decent performer. Just not very telgenic.

        Again a shame as it’s another good song.

    • eurovicious

      Hi fiveleaves – thanks. Regarding Compact Disco, probably best if you click on the video link which has now been included in the article above and judge for yourself 🙂

  • fiveleaves

    As for Spain.
    I’m with eurovicious rather than shai on Pastora’s vocal going by this video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRyJG3e9ejg

    How much is just fanwank is ofc a matter of opinion, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the vocal.

    I like the lighting too.

    Altho I guess that was maybe the same/similar for most of the acts.

  • Emma

    Thanks, eurovicious, those of us stuck across the continent appreciate it. I’m glad to hear about Switzerland, since I actually really like the act/song. I see them as a borderline qualifier and you’ve given me some hope. Merci/danke schoen! But I don’t care if Annmary performs the hell out of Beautiful Song May 22nd–if that dirge qualifies over Switzerland, shit’s gonna go down:P Interesting about Lith. I sort of saw that one as fading into the background. I heard it a few times and I could not sing or hum one word or note of it right now.

    Jedward is confusing to me. They win the NF by a landslide. They’re popular in concert. Yet online, I’ve read nothing but negative feedback. They’re at the bottom of those top 42 videos, often just above the likes of Bulgaria and Macedonia. Of course, Eric Saade generated a lot of dislike too and look where he ended up. I guess Jedward will have to go on being a conundrum for the fan world.

    What sucks though? That none of the REALLY important acts were that. No Sweden. No Norway. No Russia. No UK. No Serbia. No Denmark! Perhaps a lot of the future non-qualifiers attend so they can perform the same number of times as everyone else:)

    • Shai

      Not all acts can be presented in such promotional show, due mainly to limited amount of time(meaning-the can’t run the show for ever).

      I also suspect that high ranked(among fans and betting sites), don’t really need this promotional show, and it is more of a chance for entries that need the attention, to present their case.Needles to say that some of the countries don’t rate this event highly on their promotion agenda, which is a shame(the only exception this year is Jedward). It is also the choice of the respected broadcaster/artist if they want to perform in this event.

      BTW:in the course of the years I’ve learned that fanwank mostly means songs that fans highly ranked and which make them go blind or deaf to the songs flaws(Sweden/Russia have flaws,and yet a lot of people tend to ignore them and make them the outright winner

      • Emma

        Of course, and I know some delegations (Cyprus, Estonia last year) don’t have it in their budget. I would, however, like to see how Europe responds to Serbia’s slow-starting song or if Loreen and Tooji are ready to sing live and if so, how do they sound. And it would be great to see how the Babushki go down with fans. They’re rated so highly for their charm (that, or Russia just never dropped in the betting market) but on those pesky top 42 videos, they’re consistently near the bottom, often just above trolls like Georgia and San Marino. Perhaps the average viewer on the big night is not the concert-type or the pre-video type, but even so–I’m curious and impatient.

    • Ron

      You have to remember, Emma that Jedward’s target audience is the teenage girls of Europe. The fact that the fan world has written off their chances this year and Waterline is struggling in the fan polls will ultimately prove irrelevant IMO. They have a massive fanbase around Europe preparing to multivote for them (they were the only act in Amsterdam to bring a large contingent of fans to the venue intent on seeing them and no other act, and many of these fans travelled from other countries to be at the event).

      • eurovicious

        Point definitely taken about tween girls repeatedly voting (not to be underestimated, though Jedward are hardly One Direction either), but I wouldn’t describe the Jedward contingent at Melkweg as large. Remember, there were only 1350 people there, the overwhelming majority of whom weren’t Jedward fans. I noticed a small group of eccentrics up on the balcony with an Irish flag and banner – in fact, I still have the image of that short, wizened elderly man with Jedward-style hair and trainers (we perhaps cruelly christened him the “Jedward dwarf”) burned into the back of my retina.

        • Ron

          The fanbase must be significant enough as they managed to send Waterline to the top of four download charts last week and into the lower reaches of ten others.

          Btw on the choreography issue, I believe Jedward will indeed change the choreography from the Eurosong one. They intend wearing LED lights in their jackets and will have water or “rain” fall on them at one point to tie in with the name of the song.

  • Emma

    * there. God, I’m an idiot 😛

  • Boki

    Hey eurovicious, thanks for the nice review!
    It’s a pitty there were no disasters to stir up the odds a little 🙂

    Based on the youtube clips (good quality this year) I found:
    – Pastora look/sound really good (I admit)
    – Sabina shouldn’t sing a verse in azer language at all costs
    – Donny was great but that’s not really a surprise
    – Eva was not so quiet on the video, probably the crowd was too noisy. It’s a good remark if she suits her song, I guess she suffered from the absence of back singers which are actually part of the show
    – Can Bonomo, drunk or sober, drugged or not, ruled 🙂
    – Hungary/Swiss is still a case of non charismatic HU singer with better song and draw against the opposite SUI. Wouldn’t be surprised if both miss the final but there is no place for both

  • DG

    Having been at all these Dutch promo shows I can say this was far the best one but it’s odd how anything slow or ballady doesn’t interest the audience at all – unless it’s camp schlager ballads like Spain. The talking through most of the show is quite disrespectful. I was watching from the back so maybe the hard core at the front were paying more attention. I have to say all the acts gave good performances except for France. Surprised this wasn’t mentioned in your review. She sounded weak and way off key through most of it. Definitely the worst performer. Moldova was one of the very best. The best of the male movers. Turkey and Malta are like drunks in a disco. Romania were polished – shame they were live. Definitely a contender for the win if they are drawn near the end. Jedward will do very well too. It’s a credible modern song with a good performance and hook. Hungary should be as powerful as they are also modern but you’re right the lead has no charisma. If Hurts were singing this it could do really well. Belgium wasn’t all bad. Netherlands is losing its appeal to me but I think she’ll do well nevertheless – leave your mothers night dress in Amsterdam though Joan. A great night all in all. Gefeliciteerd Nederland!

    • eurovicious

      Hi DG – Anggun sounded fine from where I was, and the talking through songs wasn’t so pronounced either (ie. I didn’t notice it or at least not enough to irritate me), perhaps because I was stood at the front of a slightly raised section rather than being surrounded by people in the throng. As to me not commenting on Anggun’s supposed vocal problems, it’s in the nature of a piece like this to be subjective, but I try to make my subjectivity as objective as possible. Having now watched the video, I again found her vocal competent and largely fine – she carries the song off, with maybe just a couple of moments where she sounded a tad strained or clipped the end of a lyric, but not significant enough to impact the overall impression. Ultimately people are always going to have different opinions on who sounds good and who doesn’t, maybe even depending on where they were standing in the audience, which video they’ve seen etc…

  • David

    Was Azerbaijan really a “tremendous” vocal performance? I myself found it a big shouty and lacking control in the video.

    • On the other hand, I found Iris very well. She loves the stage for sure. And I found her voice pretty much close to perfect.

    • eurovicious

      Hi David – from where I was standing (up front on the left, on a slightly raised section with a great view of the stage) Sabina sounded fine, and she does to me in the video too now that I’ve had chance to watch it, though I do kind of see where you might be coming from towards the climax of the song (though I’m not sure I agree).

  • eurovicious

    One week on, a couple more bits of gossip/insight that I gained in Amsterdam, plus a correction:

    – Slovenia is getting a fifth backing singer, choreography and new staging which will be strongly based on Lejla (Bosnia 2006). Everything will be dark and Eva will appear alone on stage in a white dress symbolizing her purity and “virginity”, with the five female backing singers behind her dressed darkly and almost hidden from view (so no big hats like in the Slovenian final). The backing singers will come into view and perform some simple choreo at one point, I assume during the dramatic middle-eight. From my perspective, this type of staging – simple yet dramatic and striking – will improve Slovenia’s qualification chances by helping it stand out more, especially compared to Croatia.
    – I wasn’t the only person at the event who noticed there seemed to be a fair bit of arguing going on between Sofi Marinova and her handlers/head of press (two rough-looking Bulgarian blokes), which doesn’t bode well… there was definitely an atmosphere, and as soon as she’d performed, they all made a hasty and disgruntled exit. Given the way that the chalga scene in Bulgaria is linked to the mafia, this did get me wondering slightly.
    – Finland’s “double bass” was obviously a cello (I must have been having a Dougal “small”/”far away” moment)
    – Now that I’ve seen the video, San Marino was of course obviously playback.
    – Roman Lob’s doing a lot of media promotion in Germany at the moment, and you can catch the performance I saw last week tomorrow night on “Tag des Glücks” at 8.15pm CET on the German channel Das Vierte.

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