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Westlife wow Liverpool crowds at the ECHO arena

WESTLIFE arrived at the ECHO Arena to wow fans with their back catalogue of 14 number one hits.

The Irish popstars, who were signed by X Factor mogul Simon Cowell and are managed by his fellow judge Louis Walsh, also performed tracks from their latest album Gravity last night.

Since 1999, they have barely stopped working, selling more than 11m records between 2000 and the start of 2010.

They are no strangers to the city either. In May last year, the band played to a sell-out crowd, allowing blond heart-throb Nicky Byrne to fulfil his ambition of singing Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone to a Liverpool crowd.

THIRTEEN might be unlucky for some but not for Irish boyband-turned manband Westlife.

The latest date of their UK Gravity tour at the Liverpool Echo Arena marked that many years since the four-piece signed their first record deal.

“And we’re still going,” noted Shane Filan, to rapturous applause. A boyband with longevity is a rare beast in the fickle world of pop.

Westlife reinvented themselves once before after Brian McFadden’s departure in 2004, turning themselves into classy Rat Pack crooners.

And their recent departure from Simon Cowell’s record label seems to have given them yet another new lease of life.

They’re embracing the oh-so-modern world of social networking, with calls for the audience to follow them on Twitter.

And the stools and shiny white suits were nowhere to be seen.

Instead the band are backed by some frankly surreal visuals showing floating elephants, lightbulbs, and faceless businessmen in bowler hats.

Oddest of all were the giant inflatable red and green apples that dwarfed the band on stage early on.

Then there’s the music – you can’t have a Westlife concert without a key change and the radio-friendly big ballads like Home were played out with few changes, to tears from some in the audience.

But it’s hard to reconcile the image of those nice wholesome Irish boys with Shane screaming out some of the edgier lyrics from Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.

It came in a medley which started with a cover of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida then unexpectedly moved into high-energy Gaga, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World – with Mark Feehily hitting some impressive lung-busting high notes on the latter.

It was all accompanied by some perfectly synchronised dance moves. It might be thirteen years but there’s no evidence of creaking joints just yet.

The loyal fans remain the same – teenagers and grown women waving banners and Irish flags. But a clear sign that the band have moved on came when Nicky Byrne’s appeal for “all the dads in the audience to shout out” resulted in near silence – rare for a show mostly accompanied by screams and riotous cheering.

The high point of the show – literally – saw them perched on a girder above the audience with a city backdrop (The explanation? “It’s New York in the 1930s and we’re Irish builders”.)

They belted out Seasons In the Sun and You Raise Me Up then in the middle of I’m Already There, the unthinkable happened.

The girder became stuck, leaving the group suspended in the air. A few hastily improvised chants later and some help from the technicians and Westlife were back on their feet.

“We wanted to get closer to our fans,” they joked. It was as slickly impressive as the band themselves.

9 Good life

by Laura Jones, Mar 19 2011