Chart-toppers Westlife make triumphant home-coming to Croke Park - and it was like they'd never left
Chart-toppers Westlife proved they really are in a ‘world of their own’ after they made a triumphant home-coming to Croke Park in front of 75,000 fans.
The reformed man-band saved the best for last after finally bringing their Twenty Tour to Dublin after playing 31 dates all over Europe.
Having promised fans something extra-special for their Croker gigs, they created a bespoke production just for their two Irish dates, complete with two stages, extra-large screens and pyrotechnics.
Their 13th tour to date, they’ve already sold half a million tickets as the Westlife juggernaut shows no sign of stopping despite their 20 years in the business.
And it was a double celebration for band member Shane Filan, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday, as his three children surprised him with a cake on stage for the milestone occasion.
Excited fans from all over Ireland and beyond started pouring into the gates as soon as they opened at 5pm with soaring temperatures ensuring a party atmosphere among attendees.
For many, it was a mother-and-daughter occasion, with those who had grown up listening to Westlife’s music now enjoying it with their kids in tow.
Support act James Arthur got the crowd warmed up before the guys took to the stage at 9pm, sparking deafening cheers.
Having clocked up 14 UK number one’s and sold 45m albums, it was anyone’s guess how they would kick off their stadium concert.
But band members Shane, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Nicky Byrne got the show started in style by launching straight into their first single in eight years, ‘Hello My Love’, penned by Ed Sheeran and taken from their forthcoming album ‘Spectrum’.
Accompanied by shooting fireworks from the top of the stage and dressed in matching military jackets, they had none of the sound problems that plagued the Spice Girls gig last month.
It’s been seven years since they last played Croker but for many, it was like they had never left as the audience sang back the lyrics to every song.
Now a well-oiled machine thanks to all their time in the business, they moved effortlessly from one hit to the next including ‘Swear it Again’ and ‘What About Now’ before addressing their adoring fans.
"Good evening Croke Park. Wow...that is all I can say," Kian told the crowd.
"Has everyone had a drink?," asked Nicky, to huge cheers.
"Good, because that’s what it’s all about!"
Shane told the crowd that it was "a special night for us."
"Since we announced our tour, this is the night we were looking forward to most...being back among our fans here.
"Tonight, you’re going to see the best Westlife gig you’ve ever seen in your life. In return, you have to be the best Westlife audience that we’ve ever had."
Digging deep into their repertoire of hits, they then moved onto 'My Love', which is nearly 20 years old and one of their earliest hits - and still a crowd pleaser.
Mark also told of his happiness and excitement about becoming a father with his fiancé Cailean O’Neill later this year.
"Speaking of kids, we have a few Westlife kids on stage with us at the moment," he said.
At that point, Shane’s three children Nicole, Patrick and Shane Jnr came out on stage to surprise him with a 40th birthday cake, followed by a chorus of ‘happy birthday’ sung by the 75,000-strong crowd before all the Westlife kids came out on stage.
"This is the Westlife family everybody...we love you!," said Mark.
The foursome dipped into their forthcoming release to debut a brand new single ‘Dynamite’, which hit the right notes with the crowd.
They also put on a visual spectacle for the audience using four moving platforms, video montages, pyrotechnics and even a confetti canon that exploded onto the audience.
And despite their new album ‘Spectrum’ coming out in November, they only debuted the one new song, sticking mainly to the crowd-pleasing hits.
It was like they had never been away as they moved through a medley of songs like ‘Mandy’, ‘When You’re Looking Like That’, ‘Uptown Girl’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’.
They saved the best for last though, bringing the curtain down on their show with their mega-hit ‘Flying Without Wings.’