Twenty-six of this year’s Eurovision acts performed at last night’s preview concert in Amsterdam. It’s always a highly enjoyable event, though performing in a small venue to a group of fans is always a very different experience to the arena setting of the big event.
It’s therefore best to be cautious about extrapolating impressions from the gig and applying them beyond last night’s fun. For videos of all the performances, you can see for yourself on the esckaz YouTube channel. Rather than go through all 26 here, I’ll just give my most significant thoughts in the circumstances. Feel free to ask in the comments section about any others.
During the lull between selection season and rehearsals, those bound up in the event like myself can be guilty of confirmation bias, reinforcing existing thoughts about the acts. The most positive surprise for me last night was Estonia’s Juri Pootsmann. I’ve previously been neutral about ‘Play’, quite liking the song without getting involved on it either way. Last night he exuded charisma in front of the small audience, and the package has a gravitas that juries should appreciate.
Interestingly, as in the first semi-final, his performance came straight after Austria’s Zoe. I’m not such a fan of ‘Loin D’Ici’, finding it twee, repetitive and dated. But I have to admit that she got the biggest round of applause after her performance last night. However, I do think certain songs that are “pleasant” and in French trigger a form of nostalgia in long-term fans, harking back to entries like Monaco 1977.
I wonder how much the French language has helped Amir’s concerted surge to second in the outright market with ‘J’ai Cherche’. The French entry has always been “nice” rather than strong to my ears. But there’s no doubting his commitment to performing it, as seen last night, and the response it’s elicited. Nonetheless, I haven’t seen him hit the high note towards the end of the song in any live performance, and he pulled out of it again last night (2:44 in the esckaz video clip). The last ten seconds were vocally all over the place.
I have been more positive about the chances of Latvia’s ‘Heartbeat’, though keen to see if the staging in Stockholm will offer us something more interesting than the national final. Last night, I was encouraged by Justs’ use of the stage, which seemed a concerted change of tack from the static nature of his Supernova performance. He walked from the back to the front during the opening, and was keen to work both left and right like he’d been given a tutorial by last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow.
His vocals were strong as usual, though that goes for lots of last night’s performers. Serbia’s Sanja is a case in point, and she was a standout. I just wish that she’d come across as even slightly vulnerable, which would be more appropriate for ‘Shelter’. Israel’s Hovi Star lifts ‘Made of Stars’, as does Poland’s Michael Szpak with ‘Color of Your Life’. Alongside singing ability, The Netherlands’ Douwe Bob has charisma and confidence by the bucket-load.
‘Moment of Silence’ is definitely not to everyone’s taste. But Ovidiu not only has a great set of pipes, he understands what to do with the number, which is camp it up. I think over-the-top staging would help it in Stockholm, and the Romanians have form here.
Those that need to work on their vocals include the UK’s Joe and Jake, who had a shaky start to ‘You’re Not Alone’. At least they are interacting well with each other, and providing plenty of movement. Switzerland’s Rykka remains very pitchy. Another act vocally off last night were the Montenegrin boys, though I hadn’t realised quite how strikingly good looking they are, like a Balkan One Direction.
Talking of the Balkans, the Bosnian presentation felt a little too much like a diva battle, as if we were watching a Lip-Sync For Your Life segment on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’. The bigger stage in Stockholm will conceivably help lessen this impression. It’ll have to if they want to advance to the final. Croatia’s Nina delivered a vocally perfect rendition of ‘Lighthouse’ even if the song feels a little too much like a 90s Eurovision throwback. Kaliopi threw herself into it as she always does, and even managed to get a ‘Crno I Belo’ scream in.
Two acts that received criticism for previous concert performances were Cyprus and Bulgaria. I thought both did a good job here. Minus One gave a strong performance opening the show. Their lead singer doesn’t have great depth to his voice, but hits the right notes and strikes the appropriate rock poses. There will be an extra backing singer in Stockholm. It was almost as if Poli Genova had read the online negativity about her Riga performance, because she was keen to initially stand still and show she could deliver the vocals. Her 2011 performance showed she shouldn’t have any worries in this department.
There were plenty of other big names last night, though they largely delivered what I expected. I can put Spain, Italy and Ukraine in this category. I do wish Barei would ditch the foot shuffle which cheapens ‘Say Yay!’ for me. Italy’s Francesca is relying on the juries’ traditional love of Italian ballads. Meanwhile, Jamala remains as Marmite as ever, though knowing the context, I’m always moved by her performance.
Malta and Iceland are not really to my taste. Whilst last night didn’t change that, they will both rely on staging concepts in Stockholm. Perhaps I should be more forgiving in that context.
Do continue to let us know your thoughts below, and feel free to ask about any other impressions of last night.