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Girls Aloud (live at an arena)

An arena, London
2 March 2013


GA live1

The arena is a complete bastard. I’m no Belgianologist, but it could fit Belgium in it, twice. The beer cost me roughly four million pounds and was watered down foamy rubbish. The staff were pleasant enough. But it’s an inhuman aeroplane graveyard hanger of a space filled with hatred and inhumanity.

Here is another crap picture of the Girls Aloud tank:

GA live 2

There are many things this picture fails to capture. One of those things is that Girls Aloud are on a massive shiny floating sign which reads ‘GIRLS ALOUD’, in capital letters. Another thing it fails to capture is me turning into a 12-year-old girl (internally – obviously, on the outside I was all louche and aloof and stuff).

Here is a picture which shows quite how absurdly enormous the crowd is:

GA live 3

Not in shot: the other half of the audience with an even crapper view than me. I’d always thought vertiginous was a word that’s only ever applied hyperbolically. This is not the case.

There’s a line from Stewart Lee about comedy gigs – any more than 200 and it’s a rally (paraphrasing). The gigs I’m used to seeing have substantially fewer than that – it’s rarely more than 50 people, though the apparent anti-washing culture makes it seem like more people, in smell terms anyway. I went to see Kenny Rogers with my Mum a few years ago and we had tickets about 20 rows back – everyone around me was saying “aren’t these great seats?” and I was thinking that four days before I’d been stood behind the amp of the bassist in a room about the size of my living room (small, since you ask) and now I was roughly a football pitch away from the gulf between the stage and the audience.

Anyway. This being Freq, I’m wagering that regular readers haven’t been to these sorts of gigs since they were into Maiden (and therefore not obliged to shave daily). I can’t imagine much has changed. The tickets cost a ‘proper decision’. The seats are, depending on your masochism, ‘rubbish’ or just plain rubbish. Surprisingly, the sound is pretty good – mostly these shows have it rattling around in an omni-mess of screaming, whistling and echo. I can’t emphasise enough how much it hurt paying for the beer. The support act, Amelia Lily, was ‘a good singer’ playing mostly rubbish songs. She was on the TV for that pop show thing but wasn’t my favourite that year (Sophie Habibis, seeing as you asked).

But the thing with these things is that you’re not really going for the same reasons you do to Café Oto or wherever. There’s a big part of the dramaturgy which makes it an impressive event. Easily forgotten (by me, at least) – you can’t get away from the tension of the too-long intro, the band going on late, the dancing, the sense of anticipation and whatnot.

Anyway. Girls Aloud come and do their songs. They change their outfits. There are gimpy dancers. They don’t have a tank. Cheryl is ill, but soldiers on bravely. All of them do that infuriating thing of wobbling around notes like they’re Christina except Nicola, who was always my favourite Aloud (and her solo album is incredible). Their voices, in harmony, are amazing. Really really amazing. I’ll get to the songwriting in a second (spoiler: OMG “BIOLOGY” WAS INCREDIBLE) – their voices, the way they have a build up of pairs, solos, trios all with their different colours and ranges for the verses, then BANG HERE IS A WALL OF GIRLS ALOUD for the chorus is one of the most impressive things. I’ve actually never seen a proper pop group (I’ve always tended towards solo artists) but it’s a seriously impressive thing. I’m not going to catch Westlife any time soon (what with them being shit) but I imagine it’s often quite the thing. I was seriously chuffed to hear that a band I’ve devoted a lot of time to can really pull it off live.

And the songs! By God, the songs! Ok, so they did the boring slow ones (which were boring, except for “Whole Lotta History”) but “Sound of the Underground”! “Biology”! “Biolog”y again! Something kind of Ooh (much like being stabbed by God)! “Love Machine”! “Biology” again again! They didn’t do “The Loving Kind,” which is a prime shitter because it’s the best song that isn’t “Biology,” but they did do “Biology” and, for the first time since I listened to it for something like three days in a row, it gave me that feeling of THIS MAKES ME FEEL ILL PLEASE KEEP DOING IT and making my brain go all wrong trying to figure out why it doesn’t make sense.

They also did Carley Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” which was a bit poo, but that’s OK because it was a cover and you have to have a cover in a pop concert otherwise it’s just a thing that you did rather than that time you saw Girls Aloud do Carley Rae Jepsen.

I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m over-emphasising the frippery attached to the concert – the outfits may have been shiny, the venue shit, the stage setting elaborate but at core Girls Aloud have something incredible by way of vocal harmonies that possibly don’t come out as much on their records. It was a little bit sad as we’re waving goodbye to the group who the only ones fit to touch the Pet Shop Boys. They will be sorely missed. On the plus side, we might get to see Nicola Roberts (who I, repeat, is the best Aloud) in a venue that feels slightly less like some floating abattoir.


-Kev Nickells-

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