Gareth Gates - Sheffield Telewest Arena - 2.3.04

Pop music is as much about the trivial things as the music and that's why the question of whether you prefer Spiky Gareth or Mulleted Gareth is probably as important a question as any. Believe it or not when Gareth Gates career finally slams to a halt the reasons given will not be the fact that he slept with Jordan or the fact he released a disappointing 2nd album - pop theologists the world over will know the true reason that the Gates to Heaven finally became the Gates to Hell was because he chopped off his clearly defined spiky formation. To the outsiders it may seem like a niggling point, but this small point creates as wide as a gulf as the one between old Manics fans and new Manics fans. In a random survey on the way to the venue a woman who was so council it hurts (Ed: You know the type - hooped earring and seven kids on her arm) nearly attacked us with her sovereign ring claiming "I don't give a bleep about Gareth, I wouldn't be seen dead there. Donny Osmond, he's my ting". Other people were more favourable claiming to Luv Hm 4eva. Despite the fact that the split was fairly even the true believers still wait for the day when the spikes come back and it is after all the reason why most of us are here at his first national solo tour.

After a lame support act called Skin Deep that made Tommi look good (Ed: Girls, we were loving those covers until you decided to sing one of your own songs) it was clearly time for Gareth to hit the stage. But first we had the fun of being entirely shallow and cheering or booing respectively to the buffest and duffest boys in pop. Assuming that Gareth is obviously the buffest by a zillion miles you can imagine the shock horror look on the thousands of faces when Anthony from Blue's ugly mug arrives on the screens - he is surely a guy the phrase butt ugly was made for and a pure candidate for There's still something incredibly exciting about pop acts in a way that rock acts can never match. With rock music it's all about that first crunching chord, with pop music it's all about spotting the first glimpse of the buffest boys and the sexiest gals. As Gareth rises to the top of the minimalist steel stage it doesn't matter that he's murdering "Unchained Melody" (his worst single to date), it simply matters that he's here in our presence. After the first time we saw Gareth over in Manchester at the Feel The Noise fest we knew what to expect with the near religious fever of the fans, but nothing can prepare you for teenage girls literally crying in his presence. It's just something you could never expect to happen to Will Young, or indeed Westlife or Blue.

Unsurprisingly after the initial excitement it turns out to be a mixed bag of a show with few genuine surprises. The obvious highlights from his 2 albums stand out by a mile. "Soul Affection", "All Cried Out", "Spirit In The Sky" and "Say It Isn't So" make up the highlights from "Go Your Own Way" while it's no surprise that "Suspicious Minds" and "Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)" shine from the debut album. Vocally there's no faulting him, he's got a great pop voice and while many place Will Young's voice head and shoulders above that of Gates I just could never imagine being sat down for longer than 10 minutes with Will Young's material and not want to shoot him. Coming on leaps and bound since those early Pop Idol appearance Gates has grown in a confidence and stature that almost spills over into youthful arrogance. His constant references to overcoming his speech impediment border on the irritating, in a similar way to when Vanessa Feltz claims to be a size 12 or when Paul Gasgoigne says he's gone clean and won't beat his ex again. It's not needed especially when we consider that we can all hear he's overcome his stammer whenever he opens his mouth.

If Gareth's initial performances were choreographed by the same people who do the Westlife ballads, then tonight really showed that he can dance like a mini-me version of Justin Timberlake. On tracks such as "Club Hoppin" he really does take up the challenge and comes out smiling. But when he takes to the guitar and makes Busted look like a supergroup of guitar gods including John Squire, Johnny Marr and Slash it really is time to realize that popstars do not great artists maketh. Sure he can play the drums fairly well and if we're ever in need of replacing Phil Collins as Drummer Boy Idol i'm sure it can be arranged, but playing guitar definitely isn't his forte.

Gareth Gates is this country's real pop idol, but you get the feeling that the powers that be are just waiting to move onto the next pretty young thing. Tonight Gareth could have stood there for 2 hours in silence and the audience would have gone away happy, but where were the surprises and the excitement that should come with the territory. Gareth needed to pull something out of the bag on this tour to really place those who doubted him after a disappointing second album and in truth he didn't come close. Here at Designer Magazine we've been fans since day one and we'll still be fans when he comes back with a mind-blowing comeback single in the near future but when you consider he hasn't got the tunes of S Club 8, the naked videos of Phixx or the urban schtick of Blazin Squad there's only one way he can do it and that is to go his own way. We said it around the time of the album, forget what Simon Cowell says and just take time out and come back with a mind blowing album that will pour scorn on all the doubters. If Britney and Kylie can come back from the brink, so can Gareth!!!

Alex McCann

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