Five / Hear’say / A1: London Hackney Ocean

Five prove lacklustre as the pop part of MTV's Five Night Stand takes over Hackney...

The strumming of an acoustic guitar is the first sign that something’s amiss. For tonight, as part of MTV’s Five Night Stand, A1 have chosen to unveil their ‘proper band’ direction, eschewing jerky dance routines for ‘real’ instruments (or in Paul’s case, throttling a tambourine with gusto). Initially, you think it’s some kind of daft joke, but although things perk up with a bouncy rendition of ‘Ready Or Not’, several insipid ballads and tawdry covers later, nobody’s smiling.

The foursome’s surprise take on ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ would be a snappier retort to the Gallaghers if Mark could remember the words – despite Christian’s axe solo, it winds up resembling alcopop karaoke.

No such nonsense, surely, from Hear’say; Noel, Kym, Myleene, Suzanne and Danny slot into their poses to the loudest screams of the show so far, opening with a spirited ‘Pure And Simple’. And then, four songs later, they abruptly scarper, Noel blustering: “gottagonowbye!!”. Polished vocals aside, Hear’say still have the air of a band who’re auditioning, and presumably, they’re saving their best for their upcoming arena tour – which isn’t much consolation for kids who’ve saved pocket money for tonight’s scant performance.

Five‘s leather-jacketed appearance comes as a muscular, body-whirling breath of fresh air. But even tonight’s star headliners seem disgruntled, and astonishingly, Five have never appeared so lacklustre. You sense that it’s because they’re not playing any new material (“Through no fault of our own,” explains Rich, mysteriously, “Although I can tell you that the new single’s out in July!”).

But that’s no excuse for not completely storming the night with the older tracks they do play: brilliant pop nuggets like ‘Slam Dunk Da Funk’, ‘Everybody Get Up’, and their first number one, ‘Keep On Movin”. It’s a million weary miles away Five‘s trademark punchy performance, and even an encore of ‘We Will Rock You’ fails to really detonate.

No doubt, Five will return with their new songs in tow, and a renewed vigour – but this show has proved that a tight session band and familiar hits are no subsitute for theatricality and genuine thrills. Pop on autopilot really doesn’t go anywhere.

Arwa Haider