Concert Review: So Pop

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By Charlie McCubbine

Date / Venue: Tuesday February 5th, 2018 - Spark Arena, Auckland

Now THIS is a story, all about how, Auckland got twist turned upside down, and if you’d like to take a minute (just sit right there) I’ll tell you how this show took us...well…straight back to 1996, to be fair.

Approaching the stadium - nostalgia at the ready – the air was filled with a certain type of magic, reminiscent only of teenage angst and pre-pubescent uncertainty, that was befitting for what was about to unfold.

The floor was littered with feather-boa feathers, sequins and glitter from the outfits that time forgot. Love handles flowed gloriously over hot pants on men and women alike. Spice Girl’s t-shirts adorned parts of bodies that potentially had not seen daylight in many years, and the notorious ‘double bun’ made infamous by Emma Bunton, sat on almost every head.

Enter stadium right. We’re up in the bleachers and we have a perfect view from above the spectacle that is about to unfold. The air is moist with a mixture of anticipation and perspiration (the crowd that have been here for the opening acts already frothing from every pore). There is a real sense of comradery in the stands - we all know why we’re here.

A middle aged, balding, rotund man enters the stage with a microphone. I presume he is here to perform one last sound check, but as the beat drops and the lights dim I realise with magical wonder that in fact the very head I am looking into is none other than that of Eiffel 65. Put a fork in me, because I am DONE.

His voice is on point, his body is limber, he is MAN. This being is re-living his prime and if you weren’t to know that there have been multiple SO POP shows, anyone would guess that this is his one chance to make it really count – and man, he does not disappoint.

He injects the set with an emotional tribute to Avicii; and for a moment the crowd is teary, waving flashlights in the air. This is a stark reminder that we’re all getting older and that life is short. It’s heartwarming.

For me the set ends with the stand out hit of ’99 - I’m Blue (duba dee) and I thank the heavens for this humble young man named Jeffrey Jay, from a small town in remote Italy, and his contribution to 90’s Europop.

Next up is B*Witched; and as they enter the stage, their accolades scroll on the screen behind them.

Youngest female band to have a number one hit.

Sold over 3 million records.

4 number one hits in a row.

It dawns on me that these bands are more than one-hit wonders with which we associate our most embarrassing years. These guys actually made it.

The other thing that becomes very apparent is that in all the years that have passed since 1997 and the heyday of pop, is that an art form has been lost. It slipped away so quietly and so suddenly that none of us even noticed.

This, of course, is the art of four band members dancing, perfectly in unison, microphone in hand, in a row, on stage. Dry ice circling their feet as if they could take off at any moment.

This point takes us perfectly to the next act. Blue.

First and foremost, and I cannot stress this enough, Duncan – if you’re reading this. Please call me. It’s urgent. That man hasn’t aged a single day.

There isn’t too much to say about these guys.  Did we collectively sing All Rise together perfectly reciting every single word? We sure did. Did the best efforts of the crowd drown out Lee Ryans off-key vocals by creating a perfect harmony, filling the stadium with joy? You can bet your bottom dollar that we tried.

Unfortunately the group dynamic is about as strong as the selloptape that still keeps their posters attached to the wall of our childhood bedrooms, left behind but not forgotten.

The Venga-bus pulled up to Spark Arena, and let me tell you – we all got on. With the lyrics to every song on the big screen behind Vengaboys, the floor was awash with shrieking girls and confetti from the overhead streamers.

They brought smoke machines, sparklers, and tight PVC outfits that made everyone uncomfortable – but none of this mattered. The waistlines may have been spreading, but so was the happiness.

The room was full of magic and a DJ prolonged the break between sets that we have become accustomed to.

Here it was. The moment had arrived. We all knew why we were here – and this was IT.

BOOM. The voice we all know as Ken fills the void. Panties drop. The lights come up.

I won’t waste anyone’s time with any more details- they were not good. This huge anticlimax was not the end we had anticipated.

Dr Jones and Barbie Girl were perhaps the only two songs that filled the crowd with a sense of childhood wonder.

The other songs were barely recognisable; and were all re-worked into a rock genre. It became apparent that Aqua was perhaps searching for a comeback tour, as opposed to reliving their best bits.

The crowd thinned quicker than Søren Rasted’s hair, and just like the 90’s, it was cringy, it was exciting, it was disappointing, and finally - it was all over.