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.