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Capital Christmas Live: London Earl's Court Arena

Pop fans these days demand it big...

Capital Christmas Live: London Earl's Court Arena

In the '80s, commercial radio station Capital regularly hosted Junior Best discos, a focus for London's teenagers. They'd pack discotheques to watch PAs from Halo James or Brother Beyond before they vanished dumperwards forever.



But pop fans these days demand it big. And Capital recognise this: so, no more Junior Bests - instead, the family-orientated Party In The Park has been a smash since 1998. Capital Christmas Live is the indoor version, with a downscaled audience of 20,000, and typically broad bill: Craig David, Sonique, Texas, Artful Dodger, 'surprise guests' and Ronan Keating.



The audience's screaming rockets when Craig David appears with full band (this is a 'mime-free zone'). The man with pop's most immaculate hair seems bashful offstage, but he's a charismatic, mellifluous performer - and hits like 'Fill Me In' generate real electricity. Many of the crowd are here for Craig, judging by the copious T-shirts, so it's strange that he's on first.



Because real instruments take time to set up, Capital hosts Dr Fox and Margarita Taylor regale us with lame jokes and videos. Margarita spends the entire show in a state of cheerful disbelief ("Was she incredible?" she gushes. "Were they fantastic?!!"). Sonique is fantastic - flanked by muscular dancers, her vocals enriching 'I Put A Spell On You', and the classic 'Feels So Good' eliciting cheers.



The biggest surprise is that Texas are brilliant! Tunes like 'Black-Eyed Boy' and 'In Demand' sound engagingly catchy - and Sharleen Spiteri (wearing plaits rather than Elvis prosthetics) requests a Destiny's Child video before Artful Dodger appear. UK garage revolutionised pop in 2000, and guest vocalists Robbie Craig and Lifford (although pointedly, no Craig David), perform three songs. 'Woman Trouble' and 'Please Don't Turn Me On' provoke mass dancing, although album track 'Something' inspires bemusement - recognisable hits rule tonight.



Who could those four microphones be for? The 'surprise guests' are All Saints, and everybody's delighted, if not startled. Shaznay, Mel, Nicole (wearing a fetching smock) and Nat display their entertainingly jerky choreography, wear lovely lip gloss, and wrap up with this year's biggest single, 'Pure Shores'.



"Ronan Keating has gone missing!" squawks Margarita. Unfortunately, the golden boy is dragged out of the crowd. The assembled mums look pleased, but even in black leather, Ronan's devoid of sexuality - Westlife were invented to make him look interesting. Luckily, the show's big production is impressively slick, and the mood is pure euphoria that transcends generations and lingers beyond Ronan's insipid rock. Pop isn't just for Christmas, you see.



Arwa Haider

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