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Apr 16, 2018 by

Net Gains

Eurovision in Concert (EiC) moved to a new venue this year, Amsterdam’s AFAS Live concert hall, which essentially meant a bigger stage and better sound quality (compared to the Melkweg) for the 32 acts who performed there on Saturday night.

Standing among the crowd at this live ESC gig could not be much further removed from scrutinising live performances as we will see and hear them coming through the tv monitor during rehearsals in Lisbon, but promotional events like this still provide useful pointers in terms of live vocal, performance skills, charisma and all-round stagecraft.

Moldova got the party started. Harmonies were fine; my main issue is the dated nature of the song, and its lyrical landfill, ‘number 1, keep rollin’… number 2, keep turnin’…’, ‘la-da-da-da-dee-dum-dum-dum-da-da-da, dum-da-da-dah, dum-da-da-dah’.

Austria’s Cesar provided a startling contrast with his strong solo vocal showcasing this modern, radio-friendly song. Not sure his freestyling towards the end is a good idea though and he does sometimes betray the look of a former backing singer thrust into the limelight.

San Marino begins as a promising pop song, but then the rap drags the whole thing down, though Sara de Blue’s sad demise there this year perhaps makes me extra harsh on this.

FYR Macedonia has elements of an excellent pop song too but feels a somewhat jarring listen when it suddenly breaks into reggae. Czech Republic’s Mikolas is something of a quandary. Will this be perceived as modern and cool, or will it miss the target completely? It does have clear USP. ‘The dripping on wood’ line always makes this listener shudder for its misogynistic overtone but this will likely pass most jurors by.

Eugent for Albania has a very good live vocal and his impassioned screams towards the end could earn some jury kudos

Malta felt a bit laboured following Mikolas. Christabelle needs to work on becoming more engaging when she sings this. Eugent for Albania has a very good live vocal and his impassioned screams towards the end could earn some jury kudos but the song is a bit too one-paced, and doesn’t really go anywhere.

Latvia’s Laura comes across as a consummate performer with a fine vocal. She worked the stage and mic stand well with the modern and credible ‘Funny Girl’ which seems to have bypassed the ESC fan community this year and maybe deserves to go in the ‘under-rated’ pile.

Rasmussen was enjoyed by the crowd but is this a track that, converse to Latvia, appeals more to ESC fans than the wider music public? In any other sphere there is so little substance to this Viking war cry. SuRie is another fan favourite judged on her reception but ‘Storm’ is the definition of pop fodder and for all her effort there is so little to excite here.

Ireland’s Ryan is a competent live vocalist but again, ’Together’ feels a bit insipid. To be fair, ballads do generally receive a muted response in this sort of setting. After this sleeping pill of a song, AWS woke everyone up with what can only be described as a lot of enthusiastic shouting and head-banging. Metal has its fans but this is a hard sell for being so tuneless and ear-drum bashing.

Ieva had the audience in the palm of her hand or rather, their hands, as they held their lit mobiles aloft creating an enchanting moment for her haunting, tender ballad. The audience hummed along towards the end. Lithuania should encourage all this to be replicated in Lisbon.

What is going on with Mélovin’s eye? was the most pertinent question during ‘Under The Ladder’. He still sounded rather mumbled here but there is no denying this will have impact from the semi 2 pimp slot.

Ieva had the audience in the palm of her hand or rather, their hands, as they held their lit mobiles aloft creating an enchanting moment for her haunting, tender ballad

Emilie was poorly and stayed at home with SuRie standing in as the Madame portion of the French duet. Fair play to her for learning the lyrics in a day or so. She made a good stab of this but it told me, the French version has more magic about it, and Emilie sprinkles further fairy dust on this track.

Benjamin Ingrosso has a reedy vocal that does nothing to improve ‘Dance You Off’. Nor do his synchronised dance moves. It is a genuine mystery to me what people consider meritorious about this entry.

Alekseev started the 2nd half of the concert and while his vocal sounded better than previous outings he still accentuates words uncomfortably. ‘Drivin me kray-ZEEE’, ‘Four-ev-ERRRR’. It’s partly the cadence of the song when sung in English which is plain awkward.

Zibbz ’Stones’ is a pleasant enough listen but Corinne and Stefan’s styling and dynamic on the stage doesn’t help sell it as a pop song of substance.

A 3-piece Equinox began to sing ‘Bones’ before Kristian Kostov joined them and Zhana too, the lyrics appearing on the screen behind them. There was a big note reserved for Zhana towards the end which sounded pre-recorded. It’s yet more smoke and mirrors from Bulgaria as its market position on Betfair continues to baffle many observers.

Iceland’s Ari Olafsson followed and as happens to a lot of solo ballads performed at these live events, this felt like a snooze-fest. There was a woman on piano helping Slovenia’s Lea Sirk who brings plenty of swag performing ‘Hvala, ne!’. She is likeable and it’s a catchy little number that could surprise.

It was yet more smoke and mirrors from Bulgaria as its market position on Betfair continues to baffle many observers

Amaia and Alfred stood opposite one another to sing ‘Tu cancion’. It works with them having this close up interaction and the Spanish delegation would do well to stick with this simple and effective staging. Serbia’s 2 female chanters are reminiscent of Bulgaria’s Elitsa (ESC 2007 and 2013) and for a brief moment you hope you are going to get something of similar quality to ‘Water’ at the start of ‘Nova deca’, but it all goes down the drain when the guy starts singing.

Sevak for Armenia sounded fine here but this is one that needs the contribution of backing vocalists and a dramatic backdrop to elevate it.

Phones were lit again for Poland’s ‘Light Me Up’ – see what they did there? The vocal wasn’t great and this duo look incongruous trying to sell what feels like a mediocre pop song. It relies on the crowd’s energy but even that felt like flogging a dead horse.

Belgium’s Sennek was more secure in the chorus here compared to her appearance at Israel Calling last week. Montenegro, while vocally sound, had a similar effect to Iceland and Ireland – it felt a sleepy 3 minutes.

My mantra every year is, ‘Eurovision is not the Grammys’. This rings particularly true in assessing Australia. ‘Why… do we always feel like we need to try. Why do we believe that we need to be somebody else to feel alive’. This is lyrical nonsense and it gets worse, ‘cause love is stronger than fire, so don’t, don’t give up ‘cause we got love, ‘cause we got love’.

The best that can be said following repeat listens of ‘We Got Love’ is that it has gnawed its way into my head like a brain parasite

On the trite, cliched lyrics scale, that’s not far behind Aisel’s ‘I’m stronger than cannonballs… Luna moon me up.’ But the crowd here loved it. While Jessica veers towards looking like a novice performer singing into her hairbrush, advocates would claim she has girl-next-door likability. The best that can be said by me following repeat listens of ‘We Got Love’ is that it has gnawed its way into my head like a brain parasite.

Michael for Germany was in good voice and the song had abstract black and white imagery behind him which was quite effective in drawing you in. A stag, butterflies, a tunnel, a chair moving in slow-motion through the air (see Radiohead’s ’Street Spirit’ video), an old tv set, a burning stag. If they can get across the song’s poignancy in Lisbon, it will have impact. On the downside, Michael looks like Mick Hucknall’s love child.

Netta informed what we were watching here was a teaser of her Lisbon performance which will have surprises. She is an excellent vocalist and an engaging performer, no doubt, but a crazy black outfit with what looked like stiletto heels embedded on her head was a fashion disaster, darling. Israel backers will be hoping they don’t get a nasty surprise with an even more outlandish outfit than this in Lisbon.

Finland’s Saara arrived on stage following a big video intro and fanfare. She is the queen of self-promotion. The ‘I ain’t scared no more’ refrain was turned up so loud it risked being shouty, as Saara did throughout this.

Local hero Waylon understandably got to close the concert, performing with his buddy. This would go down well with the locals in a Nashville nightspot but felt a long three minutes here.

You can check out the Amsterdam performances here and here.

Following Amsterdam and in terms of the Outright, Israel has steadied as market leader while Australia has been the most significant shortener.

Next stop will be Lisbon for what promises to be a highly informative day 1 of rehearsals there as we will see the first half of semi-final 1 which is looking fiercely competitive.

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13 Comments

  1. eurovicious

    “This is lyrical nonsense” – agreed! But so is “Years ago, when I was younger” and “I bought new underwear, they blue”…

    • Rob

      Hi ev. That’s a fair point. I do wish jury members would pay more attention to poor, lazy, cliched lyrics but they seemingly do not (in general).

      • PeterNL

        It will be hard to judge if songs from countries like Albania or Hungary have outstanding lyrics, so I can imagine that jury members completely ignore the texts of all songs.

    • Montell

      Lyrics is the last thing I look to when I access a song. Also “Satellite” is one of my favorite Eurovision songs. You see, English is not my first language and I really don’t care what the song is about when I listen to it for the first time. All I care is do I like it or not. Sometimes I like the song without even being able to describe what is it exactly I like about it. But I guess I pay attention at overall composition of the song, the vocals, the melody, the mood of the song, etc. Only when I decided that I like the song I sometimes pay closer attention at the lyrics. What I want to say is this. There are only a few countries in Europe with national language being English. For the rest of the Europe English is only a means of communication with foreigners. I think people from non-English speaking countries don’t care about the lyrics of the song at least not on the first listen. So “I’m stronger than cannonballs” will do just fine.

      • Montell

        * when I assess a song.

        Edit comment feature would be a nice update to this site 🙂

        • Rob

          Lyrics are certainly not a consideration for me either, Montell, on 1st listen. But I think music professionals drafted in to give an expert opinion on ESC songs should be paying attention to them.

          I think there is also a big difference between ‘I’m not your toy, you stupid boy’ and ‘luna moon me up’. For me, it’s about context and what is being sold to the audience. There is cleverness in the former, not the latter imho.

          I personally find it hard to buy into a supposedly ‘anthemic’ song like Australia’s when so little effort has been made lyrically and it actually adds to the synthetic/derivative feel of the song.

          I’ve just added a Comments ‘edit’ feature which I hope will work 🙂

  2. Cathal

    Can someone please explain to me how the hell Finland is still shortening in the odds to qualify? Have these bookies lost their minds

    • Rob

      I guess Finland will continue to prove popular, Cathal, because Saara is such a big fan favourite. I’ve read some positive reviews too regarding her performance in Amsterdam. For me, she oversells everything she does on the stage, is far too in-your-face & her live vocals can be decidedly iffy too.

      The song has its merits in studio form but I’ve yet to see any proof it can come together well enough live.

      • Cathal

        But every performance she does will be inflated by fans because of the singer. If its good fans will think its amazing, if its mediocre fans will think its good , if its bad fans will think its mediocre.

        Its just I have been following the odds since the draw and since then Finland has been lengthening slowly and then out of nowhere since she canceled Israel calling she suddenly has been shortening at a rate of knot’s as if she has done something big ( all she really had done in this time is reveal a cover of her song in multiple languages & talk about her battle with anxiety). In the end I know come ESC when a lot of betting sites opening their markets to qualify and people see it for what it is which is fodder to space out Armenia & Greece ( the 2 big boys in the 2nd half) she will collapse again I believe.

  3. PeterNL

    Thanks for the nice article. I was there too, and I’m afraid we didn’t learn a lot. All favourites had a good performance, but it didn’t feel like anyone could be a threat to Israel. I was happy to see Belgium doing better than before though.

    The ones surprising me in a positive way: Albania (still not enough to qualify), Poland (they are selling this crappy song extremely well), Austria (the song itself already deserves to be in the final).

    More negative were Ukraine (quite boring for an uptempo song), Denmark (what are we listening to?) and Finland (the song felt endless).

  4. Paul Allan

    I’m struggling to really like many of the songs this year – there are weaknesses and annoying bits to nearly all.

    I keep going back to Portugal as one with class and authenticity. And also Greece. I actually like Italy too.

    Get the feeling the market is forgetting about some and getting caught up in the live show hype.

  5. neomichael

    Hi everybody. Nice to see you again. Judging from the pre-party in Amsterdam I would say that Netta vocally she was far more stable than what we heard in the Israel pre-party. So, does anyone have an explanation why lately the odds in the winning market are drifting for Israel, while both for Czech & Australia are shortening?

    • Tim B

      Hey neomichael. I wonder if the Australia and Czech Republic price crashes (they’ve drifted back out again now) are due to technical rehearsals happening right now in Lisbon. If so, plenty of people will have seen their staging concepts, and they might have something good. You would expect Australia at least to have made a big effort with theirs. Add this to the relentless bot backing Bulgaria and that probably explains why Israel hasn’t gone shorter.