Rocking The Rucner

Apr 10, 2016 by

Rocking The Rucner

One thing you have to keep reminding yourself when attending the big pre-ESC gig at Melkweg in Amsterdam; it is a lion’s den of fanboys. They cheered wildly for certain artists but how accurate that is as a true barometer of wider ESC tastes remains to be seen.

The other thing is, you carry your own pre-conceptions about all these songs – a certain confirmation bias which is the enemy for any serious ESC trader – and this inevitably colours opinions as hard as you try to approach things as objectively as possible.

Cyprus’s Minus One kicked things off with a rousing rendition of ‘Alter Ego’. My ear was trained on lead singer Francois’s vocal having noticed some potential frailty there. He has a raspy timbre to his voice which is stretched at times throughout this but he coped well enough. Perhaps more impressive was the stick work of the drummer who put in an animated display.

The early starters maybe suffered a little on the night as they invariably do at these events. Slovenia’s Taylor Swift doppelgänger, ManuElla, was vocally fine but her performance felt a bit flat, hindered by her having her eyes closed during delivery of the high pitched parts of this song. Moldova’s Lidia had a bit more uptempo oomph to sell to the Melkweg crowd. They enjoyed it but it was a struggle for this listener to escape the very formulaic nature of ‘Falling Stars’.

Iceland closed the first section of the show and the 12 inch version of ‘Hear Them Calling’ Greta served up began wonderfully with her playing violin. It was a much stronger intro than the song in its Stockholm form. She sang it well enough with the video imagery seen at the Icelandic final behind her, as we will no doubt experience in Stockholm.

Douwe Bob began the last session. His pianist and guitarist shared the vocal with him. They harmonised well. Stripped back, simple and seemingly effective. Maybe less will be more this year in a Eurovision which threatens to be staging effect heavy after the success of Mans last year.

Ira Losco’s vocal was fine as she sold Walk On Water well strutting about the stage. It still felt a rather repetitive, long 3 minutes to this listener.

Justs has at last taken some wise fashion advice and ditched the horrible browny/red leather jacket for a more traditional black one instead. It looked much better. There is no doubting this guy’s vocal prowess and he was a lot more animated on the stage compared to his Latvian national final appearance.

Poli Genova got the crowd going even more and the vocal was tighter than her dubious Riga appearance. She freestyled the song with a ‘1, 2, 3 go…’ inviting the audience to sing the chorus’s ‘О, дай ми любовта!’ hook. It might be a wise move to replicate this in Stockholm as it really got the crowd enlivened here.

Italy’s Francesca sounded more solid vocally than she had done in her most recent live tv performance but of course what you hear in a concert standing in front of a stage is completely different to how a song sounds coming through a tv monitor.

Her delivery still felt rather lacklustre. She has a touch of the Marco Mengonis about her in rather under-selling this. Italian songs always seem to be appreciated by jurors purely by dint of being sung in Italian but maybe she is allowing room for a lukewarm reaction and more critical assessment with this. She would certainly be better off performing it at the piano to give her a USP.

Amir received a hero’s welcome. The ESC fan bubble is in love with this guy and his song, no doubt. He cleverly negotiated the 2 big notes in the last minute and perhaps only the pickiest juror will be punitive regarding that.

The song is something of a vocal maze, however, as he speeds through the lyrics in French and he took a wrong turn somewhere towards the end with a slightly off-key line. But he built the energy well and worked the crowd a lot better compared to his previous live appearances. And as Lena showed us in 2010 you do not have to be the best vocally if you are able to charm the audience and a bit like ’Satellite’ this is a catchy tune which looks like capturing many people’s imagination.

Another fan favourite, Kaliopi came out and powered through her Balkan ballad. There is no denying her vocal talent and she commits to the song fully. It is just a difficult one to assess for someone with Western music tastes, and the repetition of ‘dona, dona, dona, dona’ while sung joyously by her feels like it detracts from the song.

The show closer in terms of ESC 2016 participants was Barei who appeared in a tight Cat woman black jump suit. She would be better served by her Spanish national final outfit. Her hot shoe shuffle – endearingly cute or superfluous and cheap? – was in evidence once more and will no doubt be seen again in Stockholm. The song has a seriously catchy chorus, loved by the fans here, and she handled it well enough vocally.

Juri for Estonia’s vocal was very good but he has a rather expressionless face performing this and as someone who was far more enamoured by Mick Pedaja and I Wear Experiment at Eesti Laul this year, ‘Play’ continues to serve up a somewhat flavourless, monotone 3 minutes.

He may persuade some jurors into thinking the song is more worthy than it actually is but the overall effect was rather cold and unwelcoming on this listener in stark contrast to the charming Zoe who preceded him as she does in the first semi-final.

She showed how she can sell Loin d’ici without silly gimmicks like travelators and fairy godmother outfits as we saw at the Austrian final. She cut a classy and sophisticated look in a flowing red dress. It was a delightful performance, and the crowd went wild for Zoe perhaps more so because the ESC fans love a song in French.

If we are talking sex appeal and lifting a performance through sheer magnetism and stage presence, however, there was only one winner at Melkweg last night: Ana Rucner. Suffice to say, do not underestimate the power of the Rucner and she will take cello playing into an erotic sphere in Stockholm. Definitely ‘one for the dads’.

Bosnia & H came together better than previously and she raised the whole team’s performance the way Gerrard did for Liverpool for all those years.

The first 2 minutes – basically up until the rapper joins in – was a Bosnian ethno delight but that rapper is really the Jimmy Traore of the outfit and knowing rap’s poor track record at ESC he might risk undoing a lot of the good work put in by Ana.

Montenegro left an abiding feeling on this listener like Huey Lewis in Back To The Future assessing Marty McFly’s band. ‘Sorry guys, you’re just too darn loud’. It has a nice Depeche Mode feel in the parts when the song is not drowned out by heavy base and sheer loudness.

Switzerland’s Rykka performs like Courtney Love after a big night of partying, teetering close to being too punkish and borderline unhinged in her delivery. That said, it was strangely endearing and vocally this was better than the Swiss final.

Sanja for Serbia had some blanked out faces of women on the video screen behind her perhaps giving a hint to the Stockholm staging. Her vocal was very powerful. She maybe walks a tightrope between showing captivating passion on stage and potentially alienating viewers by being too assertive in her delivery.

She, along with Ukraine’s Jamala and Albania’s Eneda took the female vocal plaudits on the night, just a shame for Eneda that Albania didn’t do a better job with the re-working of her song because she certainly has the vocal range.

Ukraine’s song is like a Portishead track given an Eastern European remix. The impassioned wailing Jamala gives it in the last minute along with some high notes that could shatter crystal are very powerful stuff.

Poland’s Michael Szpak produced probably the best solo male vocal on the night. Just a shame his song is a very dated poodle rock ballad that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Foreigner album in the 80s.

Israel’s Hovi seemed to have some playback assistance but this was another assured male vocal on the night and a fully-clothed Ivan, still threatening real wolves on stage with him in Stockholm, gave ‘Help You Fly’ some extra gusto with his stagecraft.

Stage presence which was a bit more lacking from the UK’s boys Joe and Jake who just looked a little inexperienced up there, as much as you want to root for them. Jake (on guitar) seems the more vocally assured of the pair.

Romania’s Ovidiu has a powerful vocal which suits the bizarrely theatrical rock number that is ‘Moment Of Silence’ well. That said, it is a rock vocal you have heard many times before and the song is like a pastiche of heavy metal balladry.

Croatia’s Nina was perhaps less impressive than expected. You sense ‘Lighthouse’ takes her to places vocally she would rather not be, and the whole song seemed to be on a rather shrill setting that did not entirely suit her.

An informative night, as always, with London (a week today) the next stop on the pre-ESC 2016 concert tour.


  1. hemsby

    Thanks for the review Rob…informative and amusing as always.

    I particularly liked…

    “The first 2 minutes – basically up until the rapper joins in – was a Bosnian ethno delight but that rapper is really the Jimmy Traore of the outfit”. 🙂

  2. Henry VIII

    Thanks Rob.

    Serbia’s visuals worry me. I don’t think the Saturday evening viewership want that sort of cajoling. Unlike Ukraine I’ve never picked up any negative message from the Serbian lyrics alone. (Maybe I don’t listen properly, but that’s the same for most viewers).

  3. Rob

    I guess any song with darker themes is a risk at ESC, Henry, like Hungary a couple of years back.

    She was still a shining light on the night vocally, along with Jamala.

  4. Matt

    The wonderful crafted Traore reference much appreciated here Rob. Good review as always. I know you enjoy France but realistically can you see this catching fire? Half sung in french, pretty lightweight stuff from a nation not known for its staging prowess doesn’t seem the right mix for second favourite at time of writing.

    I can see its charms and it has a certain USP but top ten is the limit for my ambitions for Amir. Italy does interest me though. I’m looking forward to seeing Francesca myself next Sunday but with the right staging, this has jury bait written all over it. This will need immersive Common Linnets style staging to grab enough televote though to threaten the top echelons but i can see untapped potential at what is still a big price.

    Thanks again for the write-up.

    • Rob

      Thanks for posting, Matt. I have been very happy to ride the wave of French support. I remain more respectful of its chance, in a very open looking year, than some other highly respected judges.

      I would share your staging concerns given France’s poor track record, but Amir has spoken about something interesting in store and I get the impression the French are really trying hard to achieve a good result this year.

      My initial back of France at 50-1 on the high street and much bigger on Betfair was based on the rumour of Sasha singing ‘Alive’ – a song in studio form that impressed me greatly.

      So I got lucky when Amir was announced and ‘J’ai Cherche’ was well received and crashed in price. It is looking a bit short now but I’m not sure what I would put in front of it in the odds at this stage other than Russia. And I would personally feel more confident taking on one or two other countries in the top 10 in the betting currently.

      I think it stands up well against anything else in the top 10-15 and I can identify a potential x factor in France this year that is lacking in others at the front of the market.

      I find it very hard at this stage to rank the countries at the top of the market & can even make a case for some countries outside of the top 15 in the betting atm.

      Italy doesn’t convince me at this stage. It is only Italy’s track record that makes me remain respectful of it. Francesca’s vocal has not totally convinced me yet.

  5. Boki

    Hi Rob, I see you liked Ana Rucner yesterday but don’t you think that too much sex appeal could also get her in trouble with the juries?

    • Rob

      Hi Boki. She wasn’t as provocative as the pic I embedded in the article. It was more her sheer dynamism on the stage that really impressed and brought the song to life for the first time for me.

      I don’t think she will be so overtly sexual as to hinder Bosnia & H’s chances. It is really (and genuinely) more her stagecraft that I thought was exceptional. But the rapper remains a worry.

  6. I personally think vocals are very important for the overall effectiveness of the total stage package.

    Still, it always has to be judged with all other elements from that total package. For a more dated 1990’s ballad vocals eventually could prove pivotal. With other entries, like Germany 2010 and Azerbaijan 2011 it’s not necessary to have another Rona Nishliu.

    I think the same applies to France. Yes, I do agree the song is difficult to sing. And the high notes from the last 30 sec’s are a real ‘tour-de-force’ for Amir. But as long as Amir sings a few notes lower, or tries to rehearse these high notes a bit more, I think it’s way way too soon to completely lay France.

    What works in France’s favor is Amir. I already heard comments about Frans from Sweden that he’s the next ‘Lena Meyer-Landrut’. But similar comments about charisma on stage could be said of Amir. I think he owned that Amsterdam stage completely. And he gave me the best ‘feelgood’ feeling of the evening, together with Zoë from Austria.

    Amir is a charismatic stage performer, who interacts perfectly with the public. Similar to Mans Zelmerlöw last year at the Eurovision in Concert. And that could translate to connecting well with the camera’s in Stockholm. The song is difficult to sing. But apart from some slight vocal problems near the end, I think he still is a very good singer.

    And one last thing, let’s not forget the current anti-European sentiment. With the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris fresh in our minds, the dispirited news segments about the immigrant crisis and a possible #Brexit, I think Amir brings the perfect story to Eurovision that counteracts that negativity.

    France is rightfully a bookies favourite at the moment. And until the rehearsals I’m not going to panick about yesterday’s performance by Amir.

  7. NN

    Lighthouse is very similar to the song Uncover by a Swedish female singer.

  8. The first preview shows are hitting the internet. The Finnish broadcaster YLE just finished the previews (with juries) of semi #1. Netherlands finished on top of the board there:

    Also the Icelandic preview show from state broadcaster RUV is on its way. They award the songs with points on a scale from 0 to max. 10 points. After 9 songs from semi #1 have been judged, Netherlands is in 1st place with 35 points. Croatia and Armenia are joint 2nd with 31 points. Russia seems not jury material there: 4th with 28 points:×563/public/fr_20160411_036487.jpg?itok=awjB6nbA&timestamp=1460383591

    I would be careful with placing too much judgment on these shows. But it does give you an idea on how juries could vote next month.

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