I’ve explained before that you shouldn’t read too much into reviews of Eurovision in Concert. Singing to a group of drunken eurofans in a crowded nightclub is far removed from being in a big arena, watched on television by a Saturday-night audience of millions.
With that caveat in mind, the general standard felt pretty high last night. A series of strong performances stressed that this year is looking more open than the market currently suggests. That applies to and beyond hot favourite, Aram MP3’s ‘Not Alone’.
Sorting the acts into the order we’ll see them in Eurovision week means we start with Armenia, which is just as well, as it provided the night’s biggest talking point.
First semi-final participants
Earlier in the day, Aram explained he had been misunderstood and misquoted in previous comments about Eurovision rival Conchita Wurst that spread across fansites. He was forced to do so again last night, having been booed by some sections of the audience. (By this point, rowdiness in the crowd had led to the previous act on stage – Georgia – also getting booed, presumably just for the craic.)
There was nothing wrong with the performance itself, save a tendency for Aram to keep his eyes closed early on, though he engaged far more openly with the audience as the song developed. Presentation will be vital for ‘Not Alone‘, and I need to see how it’s put across on the Copenhagen stage before I feel more confident assessing its chances.
In a field where most of the leading contenders are rather gloomy, there may be some uplifting stuff that does much better than imagined. Latvia was one of a number of bookmakers’ outsiders that induced a smile last night: ‘Cake To Bake‘ was catchy and well received. That wasn’t enough for PeR last year from another poor draw, but I won’t be rushing to lay Aarzemnieki just yet.
Albania’s Hersi has a wonderful voice which I think is entirely wasted on the meandering ‘One Night’s Anger‘. Last night’s performance only confirmed that for me. Azerbaijan’s Dilara is another dazzling vocalist and ‘Start A Fire‘ feels like it’s going to really take flight at certain points, but holds itself back a little too much. Still, neither song was suited to the context of this particular performance.
There was some busy and rather pointless choreography for Ukraine’s ‘Tick-Tock‘: it was like a gender switch of Belarus’ ‘Work Your Magic’, with two black-suited men flanking the similarly-attired Mariya. They’ll need to tone it down for Copenhagen, but Ukraine usually gets it right when it matters, and I didn’t have a problem with the vocals here.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s Axel powered impressively through his melodramatic number, ‘Mother‘, getting one of the best receptions of the night in neighbouring Netherlands. The song makes me cringe, but there’s no denying his ability to sing it.
Moldova’s Cristina is another one with an extremely powerful voice that could do with different material. Alone on stage, this was not the visual car crash of the national final, and it’ll be interesting to see if the team behind ‘Wild Soul‘ return to that distracting madness in Copenhagen. One hopes they don’t, given the clever staging that’s boosted Moldova’s most recent entries.
I’m not a fan of San Marino’s third effort penned by Ralph Siegel. He has 40 years’ experience writing Eurovision songs, and ‘Maybe‘ sounds like it was left in his drawer in 1974. Still, Valentina Monetta – now a veteran of these events – was as valiant as ever in selling it.
I had heard on the grapevine that there was a new version of Portugal’s ‘Quero Ser Tua‘. It sounded pretty similar tonight, though Suzy had a new, more flattering, straight-haired look. Like Latvia, this was a sunny, hook-laden, charmingly-performed outsider. It’s basically ‘Danca Comigo’ part dois (with the same composer), and that came ever so close to qualifying in 2007’s 28-runner semi.
The Netherlands was predictably cheered by the home crowd. ‘Calm After the Storm‘ is treading a fine line between bewitching and soporific. I’d like to see The Common Linnets interacting more with each other to keep viewers interested. Montenegro’s ‘Moj Svijet‘ could also go in either of these directions. Sergej was all alone tonight and he doesn’t have the charisma of Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic. He desperately needs instrumentalists with him on stage in Copenhagen.
Second semi-final participants
Malta’s ‘Coming Home‘ featured just the two main protagonists of Firelight, and came across strongly, though I’m still not a huge fan of the female-led middle-eight which seems to suck some of the energy from the song. It was a difficult job for Norway’s Carl Espen to win over an increasingly noisy crowd, but he did so commandingly in the second half of ‘Silent Storm‘, and that should help his confidence.
As mentioned previously, the poor Georgians got the worst reception bar Aram. Their entry is every bit as leftfield live as it is in studio. ‘Three Minutes to Earth‘ felt like a rather hopeless case last night – the only one, in fact. On the other hand, Austria’s Conchita Wurst was among friends and received like a hero. She rewarded the crowd’s love by nailing the vocals to ‘Rise Like A Phoenix‘, and I have no doubt this entry will remain one of the contest’s main talking points.
Lithuania’s Vilija is a confident performer who clearly relishes the self-composed ‘Attention‘. The song certainly adds variety to this year’s line-up. Meanwhile, Belarus’s Teo opened proceedings with a charismatic slice of ‘Cheesecake‘. His vocals were strong, he brings a requisite tongue-in-cheek attitude to the stage and this is another wry outsider.
FYROM’s Tijana is a striking presence – tall and bespectacled – and she does her best with ‘To The Sky‘, though some of her dance moves are a bit hen night. Meanwhile, Switzerland was one of the surprises of the night. Sebalter’s diction was much improved from the national final, and having written off ‘Hunter of Stars‘ at that point, I’m no longer doing so.
The next two acts predictably worked very well in the context of this nightclub gig. Greece’s Freaky Fortune got everyone to ‘Rise Up‘ with an energetic, strong showing featuring good vocals. Romania’s Paula and Ovi also got the crowd jumping to ‘Miracle‘. Both will need shrewd staging to be as highly effective in Copenhagen.
That comment also applies to France’s Twin Twin, who were every bit as good, getting the party started from an early slot. I hope the end product doesn’t go all Fatal Picards on us (the country’s disastrous 2007 effort). On this evidence, the signs are hopeful for ‘Moustache‘.
With a lot of hype to live up to and home fans to please, the United Kingdom’s Molly had a lot on her plate performing for the first time since airing ‘Children of the Universe‘. Unfortunately, the first half of the song was marred by technical issues involving the huge echo on her microphone. When it was sorted, the song’s middle-eight still proved a cracker, but I’ll be waiting on the Copenhagen staging for this one.
Spain’s Ruth Lorenzo was the penultimate 2014 act to perform, and she had her many British fans in raptures with a mesmerising performance of ‘Dancing in The Rain‘. She owned the stage just as she had done during her run on X Factor. Last on was Denmark’s Basim, who was a little less impactful without the retinue of backing singers and dancers seen in the national final for ‘Cliche Love Song‘, but he’s an engaging performer nonetheless.
If there was anything learnt from last night, it confirmed the sense that this is a year not to take anything for granted. I’ve never known such uncertainty among those whose focus is betting large sums on the contest. My main advice would be: keep an open mind; reassess your entrenched favourites and dismissed also-rans.
Let us know your thoughts below, whether you attended the concert or not. Video links, most of which come from the marvellous Esckaz crew, will continue to be added as they are posted online.