Try as you might want to, there’s no ignoring the fact that One Direction are in town. The battle lines have been drawn. A caller on Nova bemoans the fact that Pink Floyd aren’t playing and social media grumbles about manufactured pop – as if there isn’t any other kind – abound. On the other side, Dublin is full of kids in deely boppers and face paint, over excited teenage girls and bag carrying parents. It’s a youth movement writ large – what other act today could happily book such an extensive stadium world tour? These three nights at Croke Park may seem major news here, but it’s being repeated from Dubai to South America.
The atmosphere inside the place is like no other you’ll experience at a gig. Plodding Aussie pop punk support act 5 Seconds Of Summer (proof that writing your own songs and playing your own instruments isn’t all that) get screamed at, the interval music of Taio Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’ gets screamed at even louder. And then all hell breaks loose. The classic rock heads will scoff at the Beatlemania references but you can’t help but see the similarities, in the hysterical reaction if not the music – which is only a small part of the experience.
In a world of Rihanna, Miley and Beyoncé and their slick productions, One Direction stand out like a sore thumb. Backed by a simple four piece band, the lack of over the top performance is quite refreshing. There’s not a dance move to be seen, the five instead appearing to wander the stage at random – although they’re undoubtedly hitting their marks with ruthless efficiency. Manufactured they may be, but there is a sense of personality amongst it all. Niall Horan is the centre of attention for most here tonight, eliciting more excited screams when he appears on the screens, and clearly finds the whole experience as effecting as it is surreal – where else would you find a major pop star extolling the virtues of the Dublin to Mullingar train line. He has obvious musical aspirations too, picking up a guitar for a third of the set.
If One Direction are to develop beyond their current status, though, those aspirations will need to be given wider scope. Spread across twenty-three tracks they start to sound pretty thin. Riding the wave of pre-pubescent joy that greats their arrival, the night peaks and troughs with alarming regularity. ‘Kiss Me’ is an early highlight, cresting that wave, before they muddle along for a bit. Then ‘Live While We’re Young’ bursts into life and so do we, back up on our feet with joyous abandon.
The problem is that, those glorious singles aside, the majority of their output is fairly standard boy band fair and the second half rapidly starts to unravel. To be fair, they do seem to be trying to mix it up with acoustic and harmony numbers but it soon becomes all filler. Each song is followed by a different Directioner marching down the walkway to address the crowd and engage in some, mostly inaudible banter with their band mates. The nadir is a video Q&A with selected fans which makes no sense at all and is, in Liam’s own words, ‘pants’.
Yet when they hit their stride, One Direction are undeniably fabulous. The mini stage out front rises for them to bounce their way through ‘One Thing’ and, despite a faltering introduction (“er…here’s the next tune”), ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is as mighty as you want it to be. Dusk falls and the stage set finally kicks into gear for the encore, lasers fizzing across the stadium and the little ones who had nodded off for a while there coming back to life. For five minutes ‘Best Song Ever’ is just that, an affirmation of all that is great about bands that really nail this kind of thing. That not everything (or even half) of what came before maybe isn’t important. After all, it’s only pop….but we like it.