Pop: Outrageous: they even kept their shirts on

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The Independent Culture
WITH THEIR angelic voices, pert pectorals and glistening grins, over the last five years the Irish singing-dancing sensation Boyzone have valiantly tried to pick up where Take That left off, grasping the hearts of a new generation of pre-teens for whom the Manchester quintet are just a blurred memory.

But Saturday night's show revealed the sorry state of the post-Take That era. While Boyzone's chart-hugging ballads successfully bring tears to the eyes of their pre-pubescent proselytes, lackadaisical songs such as "Picture of You" and "No Matter What" would have rested happily among the ranks of Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees, and displayed none of the dynamism of their forebears.

The pre-teen screamers were out in frightening force, leaving their parents outside so that they could worship their Identikit idols unabashed. Each girl - there was not a boy in sight - had gone to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate their admiration from face paint and T-shirts bearing the name of their favourite Boy to giant banners containing touching declarations of love: "Cherie 4 the Boyz", and "Kingsbridge Grammar Say Get Your Kit Off!"

Others were considerably more picky. Though the blond bombshell Ronan has long been the band's No one hunk, spokesperson and all round Nice Guy, the concert revealed that Stephen is now the golden boy. His cheeky grin, raised eyebrows and extraordinary falsetto voice worked the crowd into a continual lather and elicited a sound that would rupture the sturdiest of squeal-o-meters.

Indeed, as Ronan sauntered about the stage, earnestly furrowing his brow for the slushiest numbers, you could see him limbering up for a solo career as a heart-throb balladeer a la Barlow. Stephen, on the other hand, stands firmly in Robbie's shoes, stealing the limelight with his furtive bum- wiggling and continual sidelong winks.

To the crowds' disappointment, the Boyz kept their shirts on throughout (though you could see that Stephen was dying to peel his off) and they refrained from the heavily choreographed extravaganzas of old.

This apparently maturer presentation suggests that the band have been forced to adapt. The profusion of younger, slicker acts such as 911 and 5ive, together with stiff competition from superior girl outfits, have forced them to move up a gear and try to capture a riper audience, whilst honing their individual skills in anticipation of solo efforts. Consequently, there were no surprise guests, fireworks or hydraulics that befit arena concerts, just a few puffs of dry ice and an army of dancers that succeeded only in showing up the Boyz' own dancing deficiencies.

Aside from some extraordinarily condensed numbers from Grease that offered an ominous hint of a future as stars of dodgy musicals, their lacklustre and shockingly unimaginative performance of sludgy ballads has for ever secured their reputation as second-rate crooners.