Brighton Centre, Brighton

Simon Price on pop: Lonely Ronan Keating clings on for grim death

 

What's eating Ronan Keating? On the Fires tour, he seems compelled to break the flow at regular intervals and allude to some inner sadness. "It's no secret the the last few years have been ... interesting," he tells us. "Pretty crazy, in fact. But it's the people who get you through. And this was written in the eye of the storm."

The storm? Well, he broke up with his wife of 13 years last summer after an affair with a backing dancer. The people? Well, he has a band around him, the same band he's had for 12 years, but any onstage camaraderie seems fake. Early in the first song, Ronan hops and jumps sideways to face his soloing guitarist, in a matey, getting-into-the-groove sort of way, but the guitarist doesn't even look at him.

Perhaps they're miffed that he's the only one allowed to wear a non-black item of clothing. It's a white T-shirt, jazzed up with a skeleton pendant, a keychain at the hip and rosary beads round the wrist (you can take the boy out of Ireland ...).

That famous early clip of the band dancing as though stricken by Tasers in a television studio to someone else's song? The story goes that they'd only met backstage minutes beforehand. Doubtless they bonded afterwards, and Ronan tells us they'll be reuniting to celebrate their 20th anniversary this summer. But for now, without the Zone, he's truly alone.

Worse, his devotees don't seem interested in soul-baring, just flesh-baring. There's an embarrassing singalong-fail at one point, and the loudest noise from the crowd is a sexual, guttural growl when the singer, who has lately taken on a rugged Ewan McGregor aspect, whips off his jacket to reveal his tattooed guns. When he goes into another heartfelt speech about people sticking by you, he's shouted down with "Get 'em off!" and "We love you, Ronan!" For this audience, he says it best when he says nothing at all.

They're a dwindling tribe, anyway. As his former nemeses Take That and Gary Barlow go from strength to strength, Ronan's star has waned. Those empty seats can't all be down to snow. But criticising a Ronan Keating gig for blandness is like laying into a loaf of Mother's Pride. It is what it is, it does what it does. Through 20 pained ballads and soft-rock numbers, some Irished-up with bhodran or penny whistle, Keating growls as if he's in a bad temper, and clutches his mic-stand till the veins pop out.

One song stands tall: the encore "Life is a Rollercoaster", written by Gregg Alexander of New Radicals, is a life-affirming anthem. Before that, however, Ronan goes into a weird, semi-humorous speech inviting us to meet him "on the pier for fish and chips", or "at the bus stop if I miss the bus". When he gets there, though, he'll be alone.

When Ronald Reagan described The Beach Boys as "America's band", he was reckoning without the later emergence of Bon Jovi (BBC Radio Theatre, London). It's hard to conceive of a more yankee-to-the-marrow band. And their toytown-Springsteen credentials couldn't be any clearer than during this Radio 2 special, when Jon Bon Jovi sings "I'm a teacher, I'm a farmer, I'm a union man/Just trying to make a living in this heartland ...".

The beautiful BBC Radio Theatre, with its pseudo-Roman frescos and Art Nouveau ironwork, is a small venue for the Jovi: 400 competition winners (78,000 applied) have made it inside, and guitarist Richie Sambora, more used to an arena, keeps knocking the low-hanging lamps with his headstock.

They're here to premiere a new album, opening with "Because We Can" whose big, handclapping chorus could have been lifted from any Bon Jovi album since Slippery When Wet. You have to be drunk to enjoy Bon Jovi fully, and a BBC Lucozade won't cut it. Nevertheless, "You Give Love a Bad Name" is belted out and it's impossible not to respond. There's a slight misfire when "Livin' on a Prayer" is delivered acoustically with an altered melody. The balcony fan club isn't having it, and bellows the hit version over the top. Nevertheless, job done, and back to the stadium circuit. Jon grins a dazzling porcelain grin. He's seen 400 faces, and he's rocked them all.

Critic's Choice

Kooky torch song diva Paloma Faith follows her album Fall to Grace with gigs at the Academy in Leeds (tonight) and Glasgow (Mon); Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Tue); Academy, Newcastle (Thu); Barbican, York (Fri) and Civic Hall, Wolverhampton (Sat). Slacker -grunge legends Dinosaur Jr visit the Arches, Glasgow (Wed); Stylus, Leeds (Thu); Ritz, Manchester (Fri); Concorde 2, Brighton (Sat); and Fiddlers, Bristol (Sun 3).

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