“The boy who gave me glandular fever went to school with Niall Horan.”
Just one of many quips traded by fans at One Direction‘s first night at the 3Arena in an attempt to assert themselves as the ultimate super-fan. Having just finished the American leg of their ‘On The Road Again’ tour – their last before they take a break – the lads turn their attention to Europe.
Before kicking thing off, Ed Sheeran’s protegé Jamie Lawson takes the stage, doing his best impression of every guy you’ve ever seen at an open mic. His determination is admirable: his song, Wasn’t Expecting That, first went to No. 1 in Ireland four years ago. Now, with a label backing and a brand new video, he’s done the same in the UK.
Despite this, it is no exaggeration to say that Lawson is doing a disservice to a genre that is already heavily criticised for being samey. Songs such as Don’t Worry and Cold In Ohio are clangers, full of fill-in-the-blank clichés – “It’s cold in Ohio but it’s warm next to you” – from the latter, stands out.
As an act, it is nothing short of puzzling to see one guy with a guitar open for the biggest boyband in the world – something that Lawson acknowledges. Frequently, it seems as if he can’t believe it either.
“One Direction just knocked me off the top of the charts,” he laughs, “But I don’t hold a grudge.”
Even Wasn’t Expecting That – undoubtedly his biggest song – falls flat. Whatever emotion was in the song four years ago, Lawson has sucked out of it: perhaps putting it somewhere for a rainy day when he may need it.
It’s a long, strenuous, 30 minute set that fails to elicit any excitement from anyone, unless he says the words ‘One Direction’ or ‘the boys’ in a sentence.
In the blink of an eye, the atmosphere completely changes, and when four, simply dressed lads arrive on stage, with minimal production, chaos ensues. Clouds sees Mullingar native Niall Horan on guitar, with band mates Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson doing the body of the vocals. Too often though, it’s seriously unclear whether they’re actually singing – Liam in particular, isolates himself as the weakest vocalist.
Overall, they seem reserved – Niall’s expression is one of permanent bewilderment. Louis is cheerful, but still grey in the face, presumably from the relentless touring and media scrutiny. Liam – the rumoured leader of the pack – is overly friendly: almost stagey.
Harry Styles remains the most enthralling and seemingly genuine member of the band. He prowls the stage, taking time out to point, wave and wink at as many fans as possible. He chastises them for throwing things on stage, before spraying water at them – gleeful squealing ensues.
Girl Almighty sees the lads all take out their ear pieces, with Niall apologising afterwards. “This is the worst you’ll ever hear us singing,” he says, “I can’t hear a thing.”
He’s not far wrong – Midnight Memories and Story Of My Life are patchy. Harry does his best to fulfill former member Zayn Malik’s vocal role on the latter, but never quite hits the mark.
Stockholm Syndrome sees a glimmer of hope emerge. In a force-field of red lasers, they give an intimate and hugely fun performance of the album track, showing some evidence that they can, in fact, harmonise.
Niall is frequently emotional over the homecoming shows, dedicating Don’t Forget Where You Belong to the Irish fans. Vocally, from this point on, the performance becomes more consistent for all parties. Niall and Louis predominately lead on fan favourite No Control.
Unfortunately, other issues arise. During Little Black Dress, it is impossible to hear them, let alone identify them individually as vocalists. Louis forgets to come in for his lines on You And I, seeing Niall and Harry stealthily cover for him.
An encore consisting of What Makes You Beautiful and Drag Me Down makes for a good finish, though ending on the euphoric What Makes You Beautiful would be more appropriate.
Is it any wonder Zayn left? Here, we see four boys straining under the heavy hand of the pressure-cooker pop lifestyle. It doesn’t help that they are still touring in support of an album on which Zayn led on the majority of the tracks. Given it’s bang smack in the middle of said-tour probably accounted for the weaknesses in parts also. After a largely uncomfortable first night in Dublin, admittedly, it’s a shame to witness the deterioration first hand.
(Banner photo taken at The O2 Arena in 2012 by Sean Smyth)