Westlife, Wembley Stadium, review: Sligo’s finest ditch the stools for a strutting hit parade

Westlife on stage at Wembley Stadium - PA
Westlife on stage at Wembley Stadium - PA

Cast an eye over Westlife’s inexplicable bounty of achievements and you’ll be surprised they haven’t played Wembley Stadium before. But last night the Irish boyband – if you can still call them that nearly 25 years into their career – made their debut at the 90,000-capacity venue with a sold out show, screened live in cinemas across the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

“How did this band get this big?” they asked, gazing out at the Wembley crowd. Well, quite. Westlife, who started out in 1996 as a clutch of Sligo schoolboys taken under the wing of manager Louis Walsh, are famed for their innocuous fare: crowd-pleasing mum pop by way of schmaltzy power ballads, vocal harmonies, and hammy key changes. They’ve had 14 UK number ones (a figure beaten only by Elvis and The Beatles) and sold more than 24 million records. They’ve perfected the art of sitting on stools.

On Saturday night, however, Westlife weren’t sitting but strutting. In a series of camp, coordinated outfits, Shane Filan, Kian Egan, Nicky Byrne and Mark Feehily took to the stadium like four lithe puppets, working the vast stage – empty save for a small live band brushed to the corners – in tightly choreographed style. Behind them, screens displayed stock corporate montage and John Lewis Christmas advert material, while the music came garlanded with confetti and pyrotechnics right from the start.

This Wembley date was part of the group’s covid-postponed Wild Dreams arena tour, named after their 12th album (released in 2021). But aside from opening number Starlight, that new material hardly got a look in during what was essentially a hit parade: Uptown Girl, Flying Without Wings, the ever-plodding Mandy, fan favourite World Of Our Own.

Generic stage patter fleshed out some of the skimpy 90-minute set, but almost a third of the show was given over to a perplexing medley of ABBA songs that received less of a response than their own material – even I Have A Dream, Westlife’s cover of which reached Christmas No 1 in 1999. With ABBA Voyage playing an endless victory lap on the other side of the city, this felt like a tired move.

Still, Westlife are a slick machine capable of maintaining a certain buoyancy. The evening’s final song, the 2005 hit You Raise Me Up, had the air of a national anthem, phone lights aloft in the stands for an umpteenth time. This was a show designed to satisfy a summer stadium audience, the pervading mood one of sappy jubilance. All that, and not a stool in sight.

Touring worldwide until 2023, tickets at westlife.com/live