O2 Arena, London Touring until October 16
The last time Ariana Grande announced dates at the O2 Arena, they never happened. Three days before she was due in London, a suicide bomber struck at the end of her show at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people.
Grande understandably called off the rest of that tour, while making an exception for One Love, Manchester’s memorial concert for the victims, where she charmed the crowd – and the nation.
Two years later, she’s back in Britain’s arenas. In the meantime she has had to cope with the drugs-related death of an ex-boyfriend, the musician Mac Miller, and a break-up with her fiance, the comedian Pete Davidson.
Ariana Grande’s show ends up being roughly one-third Sweetener, one-third Thank U, Next and one third oldies – ie, anything pre-2018. It should be a sure-fire winner, yet something is awry
She has seen more of life and loss than any 26-year-old should, and has responded with great dignity. The teenage girls flocking into the O2 have found themselves a fine role model.
Not that all her fans are girls, but this is the kind of occasion where you feel left out if you don’t have a long ponytail.
It’s part of the Sweetener tour, following up the album of the same name, which came out a year ago. All very orthodox – except that Grande, seizing the day, released another album since then.
The lighting is mostly dim: at one point it’s all orangey-brown, like Seventies wallpaper. The video screens, a pair of lozenges hanging in the air, are too small to be of much use
Entitled Thank U, Next, it rather upstaged Sweetener by yielding three successive No 1 hits, and has even lent its name to a fragrance.
The show ends up being roughly one-third Sweetener, one-third Thank U, Next and one third oldies – ie, anything pre-2018. It should be a sure-fire winner, yet something is awry.
There’s a dance troupe, but the only memorable scene they create is the opening one; Last Supper with a hint of a Roman orgy.
The lighting is mostly dim: at one point it’s all orangey-brown, like Seventies wallpaper. Grande, who often breaks records on the streaming services, could bag another one here for the most dud photos taken in one evening.
IT’S A FACT
Ariana Grande has a four-octave soprano vocal range and the ‘whistle register’ – the highest register of the human voice.
The video screens, a pair of lozenges hanging in the air, are too small to be of much use. Often you can only make out Grande by her ponytail and her over-the-knee boots. It’s as if she doesn’t really want anyone to see her.
The sound is murky, smudging the crisp minimalism of the newer songs. The only instrument that rings out is Grande’s voice, which is a thing of beauty, both strong and frail.
When she sings unaccompanied, there’s a magic that makes you wonder whether she needs musicians at all.
After an hour, the lighting suddenly gets brighter, as if she was treating her designers like producers (Thank U. Next!). The twitchy new tracks give way to older, warmer hits such as Dangerous Woman.
By the time Grande gets to Break Free, the ponytails are pogoing for joy. Somewhere inside this muddle, a good gig is trying to get out.
Roundhay Park, Leeds
What starts in Turin, ends in Ipswich and makes more money than the GDP of several small nations combined? Obviously it’s Ed Sheeran’s record-breaking, 255-date Divide tour, which has grossed £607 million and met more than 8.5 million people in a two-and-a-half-year trek through Argentinian polo fields, Finnish airfields and a very wet park in Leeds.
‘Are you having a good time?’ beams an extremely wealthy 28-year-old with a diddy guitar and some looping effects pedals. We’d be having a better time, Ed, if your lot hadn’t confiscated our umbrellas on the way in.
But 80,000 cheerier people drown out our muttering, and it’s clear that nothing will persuade them that they’re not having the best night of the summer.
The Halifax-born, Framlingham-raised Ed Sheeran is concluding his planet-conquering trip with two nights here and four in Suffolk – ‘the two places I call home’, he twinkles
The Halifax-born, Framlingham- raised Sheeran is concluding his planet-conquering trip with two nights here and four in Suffolk – ‘the two places I call home’, he twinkles.
Although you suspect he said something just as warm and winning in Incheon, South Korea.
The setlist has bulked up lately with the inclusion of Beautiful People and I Don’t Care from his most recent album.
Impassioned opener Castle On The Hill remains perhaps his best song; Sing or Shape Of You his grooviest; ersatz Irish nightmare Galway Girl the silliest; Thinking Out Loud the slushiest.
Ed bounces about like it’s the first night instead of the 250th and tells us it’s not really a one-man show because ‘you’re the backing singers, the backing dancers – we do this as one, right?’
And so the pop world’s most materially successful charm offensive approaches its conclusion. He’s not our most brilliant star, but 600 million quid says he’s the one people seem to like the most.
The ‘Divide’ tour ends tomorrow night at Chantry Park, Ipswich