Amsterdam ESC Concert Review

Apr 6, 2014 by

Amsterdam ESC Concert Review

Did the Melkweg gig inform us of very much this year? Yes. Firstly, that Aram MP3 is persona non grata among some sections of the ESC gay community, while Conchita Wurst is seen as a Messianic figure.

It was surprising to hear the boos ring out when Aram took the stage. He tried his best to appease the crowd and his mediating led to a trickle of polite applause, but not surprisingly the long overdue Armenia drift has begun. This, ironically after we were given evidence of Aram’s good live vocal ability on the night. Ultimately, this song needs to be seen in its full glory on stage in Copenhagen before trying to figure out its likely fate.

Robin Thicke wannabe Teo began the night. He has plenty of showmanship about him that some may like. It’s a song that is hard to dismiss as much as this listener personally finds it even harder to listen to.

Valentina’s performance felt a little flat following Teo before France’s Twin Twin got the crowd jumping. It’s a peculiar ESC year given there are so many seriously subjective songs and which could go either way both in the affections of televoters and jurors alike.

Without her industrial baking foil get up, as seen in the Moldova final, Cristina Scarlat was somewhat forgettable, on a similar amnesia setting to Valentina which was a reminder in itself how uptempo songs can really leap out, and how ballads often require a leg up in their staging.

Albania’s Hersi impressed with her live vocal prowess. It’s a shame her song wasn’t left in Albanian as you sense it may have lended it some extra gravitas. Her vocal reminded this listener, in a good way, of Amy Lee, lead singer of Evanescence.

Sebaltar was next and this offered a charming, clap-a-long 3 minutes. Whether juries rate this is hard to call. It’s a highly original tune but maybe they will consider it amateurish. When the fiddles take over it makes for a joyous moment of musicianship.

Azerbaijan has more of a late night hotel lobby bar feel. This came across as very sophisticated and we clearly have another excellent solo female vocalist on our hands in the form of Dilara. You can imagine the flaming imagery for this song coming to life on the Copenhagen stage.

Latvia’s Cake To Bake has a unique charm. The two guys come across like a couple of friendly buskers having an impromptu gig in Leicester Square and getting a decent crowd gathering round them to enjoy it.

Ukraine’s Mariya was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt with two male dancers flanking her, also in black suits. The 2 guys showcased some bizarrely chaotic dance moves. It was difficult to see the connection between this choreography and ‘Tick-Tock’ but the chorus lodges in your head.

Lithuanian’s ‘Attention’ struggled to maintain this concert-goer’s attention – sorry, it was crying out to be written – but to be fair Vilija works the stage really well.

Malta, utilising some train imagery, is fine as Mumford & Sons clones go but there is nothing especially memorable or impressive about this other than the moment the woman on keyboards takes over the lead vocal and it risks derailment.

Brigitte Nielsen looked to have made a surprise appearance on stage next, short peroxide white hair, black-rimmed glasses. This turned out to be Macedonia’s Tijana, and credit where it is due she has some good pipes on her.

Georgia’s answer to Fleetwood Mac followed. This sort of sound may well be loved in certain rustic bars in Tetritsqaro but it is hard to see it being fully embraced by the ESC viewership.

Montenegro’s Sergej is tall. You see the value of these live Eurovision gig write ups offering up such vital inside information. Sergej is tall. You heard it here first. That this was the most memorable element hints at his performance not really standing out with him alone on stage. This song needs to be pimped up in Copenhagen.

Greece got the crowd pogo-ing up and down to the catchy beat of ‘Rise Up’. It was a lot a fun but again, the question is whether juries will buy it, and as with all of this year’s uptempo tunes, a second half draw is ideally required for any of them to trouble the top end of the leaderboard.

Belgium’s Axel followed Aram’s attempt at diplomacy, and he put in a stellar vocal performance.  The UK’s Molly was much anticipated next and came out wearing a floaty pagan dress that cast her well.

While she had a lot of UK fans cheering for her what followed was a perplexing live performance mainly due to there being far too much backing track. Whether Molly can truly do this song justice live… the jury has to still be out on that one.

The quality of The Common Linnets song certainly resonated with this listener. The interplay between them was somewhat lacking and this was hit home after seeing Paula and Ovi next up for Romania.

‘Miracle’ is such a basic thing but this duet looks capable of getting the absolute maximum out of it, including Paula’s impressive power note that could have shattered any nearby crystal as well as send stray dogs scurrying to safety.

Carl sang live for Norway and after a slow, subdued start this offered a genuine goosebumps moment in the last minute. This is the sort of song that will likely need a 2nd half draw to make an impact in the final but ‘Silent Storm’s’ quality should not be under-estimated.

Portugal’s Suzy was next on stage. Simple notes on this: ‘one for the dads’. Suzy showed off her wares in no uncertain terms shaking her booty in a revealing little black dress and it was an impressive feat of dress design that her equally impressive cleavage didn’t escape:

Conchita was afforded hero worship before and after a very decent live effort. Some might argue Conchita was trumped by Ruth. Ruth has plenty of Zlata about her throwing her hair around in a ‘look at me’ manner before delivering a sledgehammer vocal.

Trouble is, there is no nuance to Ruth’s vocal, or the song for that matter – ‘the rain, the rain’ – and it was all very self-indulgent. Any comparisons with Pastora’s quality ballad for Spain a few years back are very wide of the mark though juries showed last year with Zlata that a powerful vocal can take a poor song higher up the leaderboard than it deserves.

Basim closed the night and without the slick choreo seen at the Danish final, this was exposed as what it really is: a hook-laden nothingness of a song but to be fair flaws can be found in everything and, for want of a better description, you sense there is a lot of impressive turd polishing going on in a sub-standard year.

It is inevitable you bring your own personal music taste to the table no matter how hard you try to play the cold, impassive viewer sat at home listening and seeing these songs for the first time. But with such a glut of songs polarising opinion this year, the long walk back to my Amsterdam digs was left with an overriding sense it’s a strange year, possibly primed for a shock, and at this early stage it looks much more open than the current Outright market might imply.


  1. Rob

    Useful link to video footage of last night’s performances in Amsterdam:

  2. Matt

    Hi Rob

    Good stuff though hard to gauge too much from some of the performers. Basim ahem.

    I personally like Azerbaijan and in another year, would be snapping up the price on Betfair. This seems to be their shot at integrity though and i feel they might deliberately understage. Get a solid and deserved top ten with no dark arts and gimmicks. How did she perform – her voice sounds good on the viewing i have seen.

    Have you any views on how they may stage or do you share my concerns?

    Thanks for the write up mate

    • Rob

      Hi Matt. I concur with you regarding Azerbaijan this year. It’s a classy ballad and based on Amsterdam on Sat night, Dilara is a very good live vocalist.

      I expect to see lots of flaming imagery in Copenhagen – this was used behind Dilara in Amsterdam. It looked effective there so could be even better in Copenhagen.

      I’m not sure they will under-stage it. It seems the sort of song that can achieve a top 10, in the 6-10 range on merit & after all the nonsense last year this could be the perfect scenario for Azer looking towards 2015.

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