Given the meteoric rise of restrained and conservative pop and rock one the past few years (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande et al.), it’s worth noting that The Script are arguably founding members of the movement – as such they’re already on album number three; the appropriately titled #3 – and have experienced ever-growing success (with the help of one will.i.am they scored their first number one single with Hall of Fame last autumn, a single currently making waves in the US). So is it really a surprise they’re selling out London’s O2 Arena, and for the second time after a previous visit in 2011? Perhaps not, but in light of the negativity levelled at them over the years, few could’ve predicted such dizzy heights.
In truth, the performance in question – the final date of their Irish trio’s #3 tour – proved their success is no fluke. Hits from the infancy of their discography, such as Man Who Can’t Be Moved and Breakeven – songs that were dismissed by some as slight and anodyne at the time of their release – pack a surprising punch in an arena context, given how confidently performed and rapturously received they are. Furthermore, the gruff, velvety tones of Danny O’Donoghue’s heavily accented vocals, although more strained than they are on record, deliver a sense of immediacy to the performance: after five years in the industry there’s an added wisdom to his tone, and not at the sacrifice of warmth.
United, the band offered a performance of surprising clout: Danny’s sprightly and youthful stage presence contrasts interestingly with Mark Sheehan on guitar, who extracts a raw, intense energy from his instrument; meanwhile Glen Power’s episodic free styling, most notably at the climax of Hall of Fame, grants the rockier tracks surplus power and edge. Sometimes their showmanship gets the better of the group and they overstep the mark into cocky territory: laddish tales of binge drinking, punctuated with swear words are highly ill-fitting, and sound bizarre given the absolutely painfully apparent ubiquity of children in the audience. Similarly, Danny’s interaction with the audience can get a little trying: he all but ruins We Cry, one of the band’s signatures and a song of moderate depth, by inviting the most ostensibly hysterical members of the front row to scream into the mic. His penchant for syrupy facial expressions and warbling Mariah-style (perhaps sometimes he’s a little too earnest) also raised more than a few sniggers from the “dragged along boyfriends” in the audience that Sheehan made a tongue-in-cheek reference to. The production values were the last weak spot worth mentioning: minimal albeit for a gigantic plasma screen behind them, seemingly on a loop of bizarre 90s screen savers (astronomy-inspired visuals and so on) – an unimaginative, distracting and overpowering presence.
The band certainly tread a difficult tightrope: they aren’t stadium rockers in the traditional sense but their more recent material demonstrates a move into grander and more expansive territory that’s translated to the stage quite naturally. It’s a sound that’s apparent on If You Could See Me Now, the band’s most recent single; a highly emotive song that serves as the evening’s highpoint. It fuses grandiosity with the sensitivity of their earlier work: on it, Danny wonders aloud through a series of childlike raps how his late father would feel about his achievements. “Would you stand in disgrace or take a bow?” he asks with a crystal sonic clarity that’s rarely evident at gigs of this size. The lyrics are powerful and incredibly self-aware, and put one in mind of the critical mauling the band have suffered over the years, and the impact this might’ve had on their confidence. But given the enthusiasm on display here, their confidence levels seem just fine.