He does what he does and it’s fun!
- PLAYBACK by Jonathan Chua () - February 23, 2003 - 12:00am
Ronan Keating ‘live’ in Manila
Ronan Keating stepped onstage at the Araneta Coliseum much later than expected after an almost hour-long opening act, itself starting half an hour late, which consisted of Luke Mejares, Kyla, The CompanY, and Aiza Seguerra. Although they weren’t the main attraction, they were so effortlessly musical they made one wonder whether Ronan wouldn’t be a letdown. After all, he has not received much praise for his singing. (His voice has been described as "distinctive" but also "goatish.")

As things turned out, however, the anxiety was unnecessary. From the moment Ronan started singing – at first on one knee, a lone spotlight beaming down on him – the improvements were evident. At the first Boyzone tour, he had sung the opening bars of She Moves Through the Fair flat, one of several instances. Then, he forgot the words to a song at a tribute concert to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. There were no such mishaps this time around, or at least, they were not so noticeable. Admittedly, he had not given up the habit of sounding the last syllable of a line like a burp; nor had he traded in his staccato style of singing for something more mellifluent. In general, however, the songs were competently rendered. In one or two instances, Ronan even improvised codas. One couldn’t call the singing angelic, but neither could it justly be called beerhouse bellowing.

The concert itself was what anyone would expect from a former boy band member. The staples were there: much waving of hands and flashing of toothy smile, one or two audience sing-along segments, a brief walk by the railing off the stage to shake hands with fans, brief and vague reminiscences of past visits to the city, and so on – all done in front of a screen that flashed snippets of his music videos and images inspired by Windows Media Player visualizations. The program naturally included his hit singles (When You Say Nothing at All, If Tomorrow Never Comes, Lovin’ Each Day), two songs from his Boyzone days (Picture of You and Baby, Can I Hold You), two covers (Someday We’ll Know and Brown-Eyed Girl), and an encore of three songs (Life Is a Rollercoaster, In This Life, and The Long Goodbye). Interspersed throughout the concert are the songs from his second album Destination, after which the concert was named.

Clearly, the somewhat modest program was not the center of interest; it was rather the performer – specifically how grown-up he had become. As part of Boyzone (1993-1999), Ronan was always well-groomed, well-dressed, and mild-mannered – a model denizen of "Pleasantville," the kind parents would willingly allow their daughters to go out with, even at night. Back then, he and co-singer Stephen (currently playing Joseph in the revival of Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the New London Theatre) were as androgynous looking as boys could be – and as harmless.

All of that, it seems, is in the past. Ronan has given up the well-pressed coat-and-tie outfit for a white shirt, half-untucked and unbuttoned, and a pair of tight blue jeans. (For his encore, he was in a black collarless T-shirt with a biker’s logo.) He has also acquired a new set of teeth – at 19,000 Irish pounds – and a new, more risqué attitude. He used to serenade little girls onstage; now he sings a duet (We’ve Got Tonight) that is nothing less than a sexual overture with a different partner each time. (In this case, the recipient of his amorous solicitations was Kyla.) His anthem used to be "Don’t love me for fun … / Love me for a reason. / Let the reason be love". Now it’s "I love the way we do what we do / ’cause we do what we do and it’s fun."

A semiotic field has been crossed, indeed. The distance traversed is quite wide; and the move, from the looks of things, for the better. Ronan left the ’90s a Peter Pan and arrived – with his studded belts, unbuttoned and oversized cuffs, crucifix dangling across half-exposed chest, swaggering gait, and hip grinding – an Elvis Presley. Or, if that comparison sounds sacrilegious, Chauntecleer the cock, crowing and strutting about in a barnyard among his peep of hens, who are willing to be "feathered" by him 20 times over.

Beneath the transformation, however, lingered the ghost of his Boyzone past, and it was that which generated part of the frisson that evening. The cheers were loudest when Ronan sang two Boyzone songs. It was probably because of the new layer of meaning that the songs had acquired. The refrain of the first song runs: "I got a picture of you in my mind./Never knew I could be so wrong./Why’d it take me so long just to find/You’re the friend that was there all along." The second song begins, "Sorry is all that you can’t say," the word "sorry" replaced by "Forgive me" in the second verse and "I love you" in the last. Given Ronan’s recent history with Boyzone, the words "forgive me" cut more deeply than they used to. (It is perhaps significant that the audience knew the words to these songs but got the lyrics of Life Is a Rollercoaster, the first release from his first solo album, mixed up.)

"So young and so untender," one used to think, for Ronan, at 22, had violated a cardinal rule in the boy band constitution. That night, however, a night before Valentine’s Day, one could forgive him anything. Seeing how far he has gone and surmising that his destination is a ripeness perhaps better gained alone, how can one not say, as Cordelia nursing a convalescent Lear did, "No cause, no cause"?

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