Boyzone had a promise to keep on Friday evening.
In their four matching-but-not-matching sequined outfits, glittering on stage at the 5,000-capacity Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium for the last time ever (this was their farewell tour, after all) the Irish lads — Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch, Keith Duffy and Michael Graham — promised they would make us feel young again. But instead, they managed to prove that no one ever really grows old.
Over the course of two hours, the handsome foursome got progressively less inhibited — they were the kind of lads who would take over the dance floor at a wedding reception, while everyone else took 10 steps back to avoid an errant elbow to the face.
Starting out in formal wear, tailored to each of their personalities — a fitted black suit with gold accents for rock star Keating, and a baggier, more bodacious athleisure get-up for heavily tattooed race car enthusiast Lynch — they did their synchronised dance moves and got the girls to scream.
But by the time they were through some of their biggest hits — ‘Baby Can I Hold You’, ‘No Matter What’, ‘Words’, ‘Love Me for A Reason’ — they had switched into more casual attire. And by the encore — ‘Life Is a Rollercoaster’ and ‘Picture of You’ — they had ditched their jackets entirely in favour of T-shirts and sleeveless hoodies, hopping around the stage and dancing around each other in a manner that was far less boyband choreography and far more buzzing at uncle Steve’s stag party.
The mood shifted to something more emotional during a portion of the show dedicated to late band mate Stephen Gately, who died 10 years ago this year. To honour his memory, the band performed ‘Dream’, a reworked song of Gately’s that was included on their latest album, ‘Thank You & Goodnight’, and sang it around a light beam they felt represented Gately’s spirit.
The track was one of only two songs the band performed from their final album, the other being a modern dance number titled ‘Talk About Love’.
Throughout, Keating was ever the small and sprightly younger member (he was 16 when Boyzone began), hanging onto his bandmate’s shoulders and swinging his legs up in the air as though he weighed nothing — or holding a note for so long that Duffy had to check his watch to see when it might end. Duffy was the unofficial ringleader, chatting to the crowd and picking up the late Gately’s vocal duties in a bittersweet gesture. Lynch was the boldest dancer, in his own world at points, not afraid to move this way or that, and Graham would belt out large Broadway notes every once in a while, to steal the show.
During intervals, individual members would regale the crowd with nostalgic stories. They remembered the days of recording on cassette and vinyl, or waiting by the house phone for their girlfriend to call.
Duffy recalled brick phones — early versions of the mobile that were so large and heavy, he suggested you would walk with a limp just carrying one. The lads had only one such device between the five of them — but none of their other friends had enough money for a phone to call them with, anyway.
At one point, Keating lamented that people in the early days would put up lighters, not phones, during slow numbers. To his delight, a single lighter went up in the air in response — and then a whole sea of them followed.
“Look at this, lads — lighters! These are antiques. You could put this in a museum,” Keating said.
A voice from the back, likely Duffy, added: “They could put us in a [expletive] museum.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Keating.
“I wouldn’t speak for you — I don’t even understand your language.”
Ironically, this same banter about being ancient enough to be preserved and exhibited for generations to come is what proved to the crowd that these are the same four lads that fans loved and followed a quarter of a century ago — and they’re the same four lads fans would likely love and follow even after the cover shuts on the final chapter of Boyzone.