JLS, Music, Live Event, Leeds Arena, Jo Forrest, TotalNtertainment, Aston Merrygold, Ortisé Williams, Marvin Humes, JB Gill

Photo Copyright © Jo Forrest

JLS drive fans wild in Nottingham

After six years following their solo paths, Aston, Oritisé, JB and Marvin are back on top form

JLS live at at Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham. Review by EJ Scanlan

Whether you love it or hate it, The X Factor was one of the most popular shows of the naughties and early 10s. They produced some world-famous bands including One Direction and Little Mix. But the first group to really take off from the show was JLS, who despite the two bands I mentioned previously, actually formed themselves in 2007 under UFO. Having come second in 2008, they won the hearts of fans up and down the country, releasing four studio albums and selling out arenas across the UK and Ireland before they split in 2013.

Tonight, they’re here in Nottingham for the second time on their reunion tour. As someone that particularly doesn’t like boybands, musically, I’m not expecting the best performance in the world. However, I know they have a loyal fan base And I know that they like to put on a show. So I’m expecting great staging, impeccable choreography and I want to see what exactly they can bring with eight years away from the spotlight. With their new album, “2.0” coming in December, I’m interested to see how they promote the album too.

However, before JLS appeared, we had support act, Cassa Jackson. This is an aspiring pop star with inspirations from the likes of Anne-Marie and multiple other traditional pop stars. She’s out with some gorgeous pop tones, performing from adequately in a gorgeous Green outfit. Despite her being relatively new to the industry, I would’ve wanted to see her with a live band rather than just with backing tracks. She’s an act but I believe takes herself too seriously which brings the potential she has. But I’m hoping that this tour is an education for her, she can learn to be herself more rather than just another corporate Popstar that sounds like she’s from YouTube wanting followers and desperate for streams. Having said that, if you’re a fan of artist’s such as Anne-Marie, (See our review here) then you’ll enjoy Cassa Jackson.

Then as soon as Jo & Sparky from Nottingham radio station, Gem106 finish their set, multiple songs play, as halfway through Usher’s 2010 hit, “OMG”, there’s a sound effect of the song slowly stopping, like you would hear if you switch off your record player in the middle of listening to an album as the lights cut out to reveal a strong flash of light from the stage as four black panthers come up on the LED screen, coming closer and closer into frame while the faces of Aston, JB, Oritsé and Marvin come onto screen with some heavy screaming from the crowd as suddenly, the boys pop up out of the floor like a toaster (funnily enough, the effect is called a toaster), as JLS are here, and they instantly go into “The Club Is Alive”, getting the crowd on their feet and singing along. The track was a great introduction to the show, with some fantastic vocals and choreography too, and with Ashton doing a backflip too, what else could you possibly want from an introduction to a pop show? Going into “Do You Feel What I Feel?”, the atmosphere became electric, with Marvin bringing in his radio broadcasting expertise to get the crowd pumped up, which they did as the room heated up with pyro during the chorus’, which was a great touch but they didn’t overdo it either. It was going well until Oritsé closed the song, and as great as it was, it genuinely looked like he was having a stroke, so not particularly great.

The band then talk to the audience (with Aston even waving directly at me despite me literally on my phone writing notes), banter about with them and each other, with Marvin even saying that Thursday is the new Friday, a little shoutout to his old Thursday show on Capital FM, it was great to see until Aston said everyone should go to the bar and by a shot… “One Shot”, that was a terrible cringy way to introduce the track I think. Having said that, the execution of the song was pretty good, with some gorgeous choreography nestled all the way through. After the song, the crowd chant “take it off” for some reason… I don’t know whether that was them paying homage to Merrygold’s stint on the UK version of The Masked Singer or whether they wanted the band to take off their clothes. Knowing the Nottingham audience watching four hot lads singing pop songs, probably the latter… After the potentially concerning chanting, the guys go into “Take A Chance On Me”, where Marvin says: “Nottingham if you remember this one, let me hear you right now”. This quote confirmed something quite substantial to me, which I’ll come back to later… Once again, the track was performed well, with the crowd loving it all the way through, but the big standout was Ashton and his incredible high note at the end of the performance, really great. I forgot how well JLS can really sing.

The guys talk to the crowd once again, with Ashton telling one of his fans to call him, which distracted me from what everyone else was saying as I was laughing so much at his cockiness but also loving his attitude, they go into probably my favourite song from the band, “Eyes Wide Shut”, mostly because of it’s impeccable production. It’s at that point I realised that like support act, Cassa Jackson, they didn’t have a band with them and were relying on a backing track. At points, this was a hindrance to the show, but during this song, it wasn’t. It worked perfectly. The energy in the room was electric, everyone was singing and dancing along, it was a great song to hear and it was great to see it utilised so well. They then move onto “Only Tonight”, a deep cut from their self titled debut album, which was my favourite on the record (okay, I admit it, I had a JLS phase growing up, don’t bully me!), and it was certainly a song choice I wasn’t expecting, but I enjoyed the performance nevertheless. The band unveiled a new part to the stage during this song too, where the top part was made to be a stage too, and that worked well too. It’s just a shame that the crowd engagement was lower during this song.

Photo Gallery from Leeds Arena Copyright © Jo Forrest

They then perform “Day One”, the first track from their upcoming fifth studio album, “2.0” (such an original album title, I know!), and this is the first time I’ve heard this, and its a completely new style for the band, going into old school R&B and hip-hop, with some beautiful samples in there. It was fantastic to see the band getting the crowd to sing a mashup of older songs at the same time, it worked well, but again, the crowd engagement was low. They wanted the older stuff, which is precisely what they got with their next track, “Love You More”, a gorgeous ballad and exactly what you think of when you hear “boyband”. The smoke on the floor gave it that X Factor feel. The atmosphere was beautiful, as the crowd got out their torches and screamed along to the song. 

JLS had this back and forth all the way through, which was quite clearly scripted as well as reality TV shows like TOWIE and Jersey Shore are, so they were like “I’m thinking of playing a song”, and another member would go like “is it this song” and then they perform it. It was incredibly annoying and it was only included so that they could sing as many songs as possible. Understandably so, but its execution was cheap and incredibly tacky. They started this out by playing a shorter version “Private”, another deep cut from their debut album, but they got the crowd to choose between that and “Keep You” from the same record, and it was a good decision nevertheless, performed well at least. This then went on to sing an acapella version of “Tightrope” which was nice to listen to for the 20 seconds of it they sang, and then they performed a short version of “Only Making Love”. Was it done, there? Oh no. They then get the audience to decide their song AGAIN, this time, two tracks from their sophomore album, “Outta This World”, and the choice was between the title track (the best from that very problematic album by far) or “I Know What She Like”, the far inferior track, and they, of course, went with the latter, which was executed as well as it could’ve been, to then play a shorter version of “Better For You”, which was also incredibly cheesy. And then, they got the audience to choose AGAIN! This time from, you guessed it, their third album, “Jukebox”, between the mediocre “Teach Me How To Dance” and the godawful “So Many Girls”, and guess which our beautiful majestic crowd went for? Of course, the latter, and I thought it was dreadful. The best part of it was the crowd roaring orgasmically when the band’s dance moves involved them putting their hand on their privates, it was hilarious to watch, especially as the band even commented on that. Oritsé took a picture with the crowd, and then… “I wanna perform a song, guess which one”… AGAIN!? It was getting tiresome very fast… This time, they did acapella versions of their cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, “That’s My Girl” and an older song that no one even knew what it was, and lost the crowd instantly. After one of them explained that the song they wanted to perform they wanted as a single, they got back on track by playing “Close To You”, another classic boyband sounding ballad, which worked a lot as they were playing up to the gimmick of what boybands are connoted as. 

This then went onto a VT of the boys singing a lesser-known song, “If I Ever”, shot in the style of their 2009 self-titled debut album with the boys in the same order as their original album cover, which was some of their best vocals of the night, I just wish I would’ve heard it live instead of on a screen. But the reason this was is to change their outfits to go into “Hottest Girl In The World”, the only song of the show to be taken from their fourth album, “Evolution”, which is a shame, as the boys experiment a lot on that record, and even have one of their best songs on it with “All The Way”, it’s a great dark-pop song if you’re looking for something fun. But as the boys come back into the spotlight, flames dominate the stage as the song starts spectacularly, with great vocals and gorgeous vocals and a chic sound. The visuals of Ashton, JB, Oritsé and Marvin sitting in chairs next to black panthers took away that class for me, and it was also ruined by Oritsé’s very off vocals. Everything in that song worked with some massive pyrotechnics exploding violently as the song comes to a climax, but Oritsé’s off note ruined the experience of seeing the track live for me. It was a very disappointing performance because it could have been extraordinary. This then shifts into “She Makes Me Wanna”, which had a real strong atmosphere and vibe all the way through, provoking the audience to dance, a lot.

And then, finally, the tour turns to the new album, “2.0”, and suddenly, this isn’t a JLS concert anymore, for the space of three and a half minutes, we’re transported to an awkward sales pitch that you might see on Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. They’re forcing this new album on their fans, which I appreciate is part of their job to sell their music because that’s what pays for their tour and puts food on the table for them, but this was a whole new level to what I’ve ever seen before. They spent ages talking about how you can buy and stream their new album, how you can get the “superfan” package to get the album and a signed poster (QR codes for this was EVERYWHERE around the arena. Everywhere…) and they even went into details on their JLS Christmas jumper. 10,000 people have come here to enjoy your music, not watch a boring shitty sales pitch. It put me off the whole thing if I’m being honest. Acts who’ve spoken about buying merch in the past have made it a quick thing, or have just taken the piss with it, making the audience laugh along with it, but this was a whole new level, and it put me off entirely. The only good thing about it is that we got a short section of their new single, “Postcard” being performed in acapella, which I actually like (I heard it earlier this week and loved it!). But then we got “Eternal Love”, the lead single from the album, which was a sincerely boring performance, with low interaction from the crowd too. I don’t expect this album to be topping any charts when it comes out in the coming weeks. But afterwards, they perform some dance choreography with some cool visuals included. The best way to describe it was it’s like Diversity from Britain’s Got Talent if they lost all their members and were on a budget. Regardless of what it looked like, it was great to see. This routine goes into “Beat Again”, the band’s debut single, which could’ve worked well if it was executed better. There’s a random pause halfway through the first chorus for no reason at all, and it wasn’t even timed well enough for the crowd to finish what they were singing, and the visuals had fire pyro on stage instead of the actual effect. Like, did they run out of budget halfway through or something? They used those same effects twice before, why not then too? It was very confusing… The boys then head off stage ready for their predictable encore.

They came back onto the stage to perform “Proud”, with videos of the members, wives and kids all together at a garden party, which despite everyone dying of cuteness over the band’s children or screaming over Rochelle Humes, I believe was incredibly cliched and off putting. The song was performed mediocrely too, with the only real highlight being the pyrotechnics, used so perfectly to get that real cheesy X Factor feel to the performance. They then go on to thank the crowd for coming and go on to explain their journey, going into their final song, “Everybody In Love”, which was a fun way to end the show, with streamers exploding from the stage with each of the band’s respective colours, making a beautiful final memory for the show.

So overall, there were a lot of positives from JLS’ reunion tour, the staging was intense yet beautiful, the production value was very strong and the choreography was top-notch, and it was even more impressive how it was just those four on stage, no backing dancers or anything else. However, the tackiness of the scripted dialogue, occasionally off vocals, the repetitive nature of the show and the absence of a live band was its downfall. I discovered something through tonight’s show, and it that, unfortunately, JLS and their music probably won’t be relevant again… With Marvin saying “Nottingham if you remember this one, let me hear you right now” quite early on in the set, its safe to assume they’re a nostalgic band, and the sooner they realise that and play to their strengths and their audience, the better their shows will be in the future. But the audience seems to have loved it with the show bringing lots of joy to fans young and old, and to me, despite my critique and analysis of the show, so long as people are having a good time and are enjoying what they’re seeing, that’s all that matters.

Ranking: ⭐⭐

Setlist:

  1. The Club Is Alive
  2. Do You Feel What I Feel? 
  3. One Shot 
  4. Take A Chance On Me
  5. Eyes Wide Shut
  6. Only Tonight
  7. Day One 
  8. Love You More
  9. Private / Tightrope (Acapella) / Only Making Love / I Know What She Likes / Better For You / So Many Girls / Umbrella (acapella) / That’s My Girl (Acapella)
  10. Close To You 
  11. If I Ever
  12. Hottest Girl In The World 
  13. She Makes Me Wanna
  14. Postcard (Acapella) / Eternal Love 
  15. Beat Again 

Encore

  1. Proud
  2. Everybody In Love

There are limited ticket available for their remaining dates here.