Sorry, did we miss something? Last time we took any serious notice of JLS, they were about to try and launch a career based on a stint on the X-Factor and were, we assumed, destined to follow most who had attempted such a feat down a depressing path. Yet here we are, two years later, and not only are JLS still around but are selling out the O2 with apparent ease – although you do get the sense that for every pair of tickets sold tonight, one has gone to an accompanying parent how would quite possibly be somewhere, indeed anywhere, else. The atmosphere is that of a pantomime, with kids wearing flashing bunny ears and struggling to eat a packet of sweets while wielding a giant JLS foam finger. Welcome to pop world.
After a fairly hapless R&B support and a series of scream inducing videos, it’s time for the main event. A good arena show needs a spectacular opening and JLS certainly deliver, appearing from behind the curtain in a flying BMW that wends its way out across the audience, turns and heads back to land on the stage. Unfortunately this means that they spend the last quarter of their song trying to connect with the crowd via the wing mirrors but that is of no matter, so high are the levels of excitement. The four could easily just stand on stage for two hours, waving and preening, and no-one here would be any less hysterical. To their credit, however, JLS do at least try and put on a show, although how much of a live event it is is up for debate. There are no musicians, just backing tracks, and those harmony vocals sound awfully pristine. Put it this way, it’s the first gig we’ve ever been to where there is no sign of a sound desk in front of the stage.
So what you get is basically a glorified PA, with the obligatory dancers and extra whistles and bells. Such is the nature of their journey here that it could have been anybody up there, while JLS found themselves trudging round dingy night spots. They’re certainly not brimming with personality, delivering their carefully scripted lines well enough but hardly the stuff of genuine pop stars. It’s those lines that perhaps trouble us the most, focusing again on the gap exists between grown up acts and their audience. There is plenty of talk of sexy Irish ladies, of going back to Aston’s hotel room, of giving the girls what they need. Take into consideration the fact that most of the ‘girls’ here are barely in their teens and forgive us if we don’t join in the screaming that greats every innuendo.
As for the music, perhaps JLS’ biggest problem is that – for a pop band – their songs aren’t all that good. Much of the set is filled with formulaic R&B tinged, inoffensive but unmemorable tunes but, like many before, their good moments are really good. ‘Beat Again’ and ‘One Shot’ are a class above the rest and they do the ballad thing quite well on occasion. The show peaks when a walkway is lowered from the ceiling, and they sing a few numbers suspended above the adoring throng, ending with ‘Love You More’, perhaps the closest they’ve come to a genuine cross over moment. If they’d left there it would have been fine, but the show stumbles on with a Backstreet Boys / NSYNC medley and a dancing robot. The parents around the arena start to shift in their seats and even the previously excitable kids start to wane, until one of the band takes his top off and then we’re off again. Such is the lull in energy though that when they encore with ‘Everybody In Love’, certainly their finest moment to date, even the raining confetti can’t really save the moment. With it JLS are gone, perhaps never to return on this scale. Come this time next year, it could well be a different set of faces up there, telling us that we’ve been the best audience of the tour and that we are the people who put them where they are. The song, however, will most probably remain the same.