In the world of girl groups or boy bands, the introduction of a new member usually spells commercial suicide. Bananarama continued for a while without Siobhan Fahey but it was never quite the same. Take That never even bothered to replace Robbie Williams and does anyone at all, apart from the former members of Hear’Say, remember Johnny Shentall?
Sugababes have never been your typical girl group though, and it appears that they’ve dealt with the departure of founder member Mutya Buena as seamlessly as they did when Heidi Range replaced Siobhan Donaghy. There may be only original ‘Babe left now in Keisha Buchanan, but if the amount of fluorescent glowsticks, pink cowboy hats and obligatory fluffy bunny ears in attendance at Sheffield City Hall was anything to go by, their predominately young, female fanbase has remained as strong as ever.
Before the three girls everyone was waiting for however, there was the unfortunate matter of a very short support act from Shawn Emanuel. His voice was undeniably smooth, but the four songs he performed were utterly forgettable. Only forthcoming single Slow It Down left any mark, and that was more one of irritation. It was all pretty generic soul/RnB pop fluff, and it was a blessed relief when his set ended rather abruptly after just 15 minutes.
The stage was therefore set for Heidi, Keisha and Amelle Berrabah, and they made a suitably dramatic entrance. Hid behind white sheets, each girl’s silhouette was lit in turn, before the sheets fell and they launched into a perfect version of Round Round. It’s a song that shows off the very best of Sugababes – danceable, catchy and ever so slightly sleazy, and one of the best pop songs of recent times.
It takes some confidence to place two of your strongest songs at the start of the set, but that’s exactly what they did when they followed Round Round with their finest moment Freak Like Me. The mash-up of Gary Numan‘s Are Friends Electric and Adina Howard‘s Freak Like Me still sounds unbelievably fresh and exciting, and it’s given a new dimension when sung live. The choreography doesn’t consist of anything other than the girls roaming the stage and rather sweetly waving at everyone in the audience, but their naturalness means they pull it off.
There was an impressive stage set built, consisting of an enormous staircase to enable the girls to glide up and down to indulge in some faux-flirting with the band of session musicians enlisted for the live show. Yet they didn’t go over the top on the gimmicks – there were a minimal amount of costume changes, and when they sat down to harmonise perfectly on an impressive acoustic version of Stronger, you were reminded that all three Sugababes can sing rather beautifully.
As this was the first night of the tour, there did seem to be some early nerves showing. The chat between songs seemed a bit forced, but once they had settled into their stride (noticeably after the audience had given new girl Amelle a thunderous cheer and round of applause), they seemed a lot more relaxed. In a nod to the Sheffield audience, they performed their cover of Arctic Monkeys‘ I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, which sounded a lot more impressive live than the rather odd version to be found on the B-side of Red Dress.
One thing that strikes you when watching Sugababes is what a great singles band they are. From the debut Overload through the superlative Hole In The Head right up to current single Red Dress, each song is sassy, smart and imbued with personality. Even the ballads aren’t too dreary, although Caught In A Moment remains the girls’ most yawnable moment. A superb light show also added to the atmosphere, being particularly arresting on the funky, Depeche Mode sampling, It Ain’t Easy.
Appearing for an encore with all three girls looking rather stunning in red dresses, they performed (you guessed it) Red Dress, before a superb version of one of the best singles of last year, Push The Button, rounded off the evening. Despite the almost constant rumours of a split which still plague them, Sugababes remain one of the country’s most likeable pop acts.