It’s hard to believe that in the 20 years that Brian McFadden has been to the Philippines, this concert would be his first-ever solo show in Manila. Still, hundreds of concertgoers poured inro the New Frontier Theater in Cubao on November 17, ready for a dose of nostalgia from the boyband era.
Dubbed as a “romantic intimate” concert, several fans of all ages from all over the country experienced a blast to the past as the Irish singer-songwriter serenaded the crowd with both his solo music and songs from his time with Westlife, where he was a member from the group’s debut in 1998 until 2004. The remaining four members disbanded in 2012 and reunited in 2018, where they toured around the world for their 20th anniversary (including a stop in Manila) in support of their recently-released comeback album Spectrum. Brian’s Manila show came months later, with concert producer Kate Gayap describing it as the culmination of “the original Westlife experience” in 2019.
Before the concert, fans participated in various games to receive prizes from Thai Royale Spa, one of the concert’s primary sponsors. Participants revealed that they traveled from various parts of the country, such as Cavite, Negros, and Bulacan. The “batang 90s” may have made up most of the audience of diehard fans, but there were also many couples both young and old, barkadas who came from both the city and the province, and families with children of all ages. Even a 15-year old attendee became a diehard fan of Westlife after being introduced to the group by a friend. Brian suddenly stepped out for a quick hello to the screaming fans, and the young teen managed to have a hug with him before Brian quickly escaped backstage.
The games were over and the music began. Kicking off the concert was Idol Philippines‘ first Grand Champion, Zephanie Dimaranas. At the tender age of 16, Zephanie had the power chords of an experienced singer as she wowed the crowd with renditions of Sarah Geronimo’s “Kilometro” and “Isa Pang Araw,” before performing her song “Pangarap Kong Pangarap Mo.” Her stable vocals coupled with her charismatic presence captured the audience’s attention despite her short opening set. Outside the theater, posters were put up for Zephanie’s solo show at the same venue on November 28. If this was an indication of what’s to come, then her fans are in for an unforgettable experience.
After Zephanie’s set ended, the lights dimmed and the screams got louder. The screen began playing footage of the singer’s younger days with Westlife both performing on stage and being his affable self behind-the-scenes, all the way up to where he is now. As the music grew louder, Brian finally stepped out, kicking off the concert with the one-two punch of “When You’re Looking Like That” and “World of Our Own,” which were high-energy numbers that got the crowds cheering.
“I think I first came here with Westlife in ’99, 20 years ago,” Brian recalls. “You were crazy then and you’re still crazy now.” Echoing what he told reporters in his press conference for the concert weeks before, he shares, “I think the Filipino people are like the Irish people of Asia. You like to have fun, you like to smile, and you like to [drink,]…just a little bit.‘”
Throughout the night, Brian was eager to interact with the fans who had been following him for the past 20 years, and several of his talks during the night showcased his sardonic Irish humor. After reading a sign that said, “Brian, marry me!,” he responded with a smile, “I’ll arrange everything for our wedding!”
On a more reflective note, Brian often reminisced throughout the night on his time in the Philippines with his former bandmates. “20 years ago, we first came to the Philippines and we got the shock of our lives. We got an amazing response from a fantastic country, and this was the song we came with,” he said as he launched into Westlife’s classic debut song, “Swear It Again,” where fans sang their lungs out to the heartfelt love song.
As the crowd settled down after the energetic opening, Brian stared in awe not only at the number of fans who attended but at the stage’s massive size for supposedly “intimate” concert. “This stage is huge,” Brian said, before running around the stage in amusement. It was only his second concert at New Frontier, having performed here back in 2017 with Keith Duffy of Boyzone for their Boyzlife concert, but the feeling is different being on the platform solo compared to performing with a group. “Hey, I’m on the screen,” he expressed when looked at the screen behind him before admiring his backside.
After more hilarious interactions with fans, Brian continued into Westlife’s version of “Mandy,” which was lifted from Turnaround (2003), Brian’s final album with Westlife before he left the group in 2004. Afterwards, he sung passionate renditions of the soulful “These Arms of Mine” and the groovy “Champagne and Wine,” both taken from his most recent solo record and self-proclaimed passion project, the Otis Redding covers album Otis.
The next segment highlighted the “romantic intimate” nature of the concert was marketed as, with Brian bringing out his guitar for acoustic renditions of his old hits. After a slight hiccup with him forgetting how to play his solo debut song “Real to Me,” he instead segued into another one of his solo hits, “Like Only a Woman Can,” to the cheers of the crowd. He then brought back out Zephanie, where they performed a stunning duet with the heartbreaking ballad “Almost Here,” which Brian confessed was a song he had not performed in a long time. His gruff voice blended effortlessly with Zephanie’s equally powerful but more subdued singing, captivating the crowd with their beautiful performance.
At the midpoint of the concert, the highlight of the night began when Brian began the next song with, “Everybody’s looking for that something/something that makes it all complete.” The audience went wild as he continued into a gorgeous acoustic rendition of “Flying Without Wings,” where he encouraged emotional fans to sing along. Seeing Brian passionately belt out the bridge showed that he’s still got it even after all these years, and this stripped-down version with just Brian and his guitar made it feel a lot more emotionally-charged than the original version.
The acoustic section ended, and Brian ended the main set with a trio of Westlife classics: “Queen of My Heart,” “My Love,” and “Uptown Girl.” In one of the many funny moments of the night, he attempted to step down from the stage during the chorus of “My Love” (which he had done as well when he opened for Boyzone in Manila earlier this year) to get closer to the audiences, but overexcited fans made him quickly rush back on stage. “Bad idea,” he chuckled to himself before continuing with the tune. “Let [the crowd] stand up, they can’t sit down for this one,” Brian encouraged as he started “Uptown Girl,” which, of course, energized the crowd so much that they did get out of their seats and ran straight to the edge of the stage.
The biggest surprise of the concert came at the encore, where Brian began singing a medley of his favorite boyband songs, from old-school hits such as “If Ya Gettin’ Down” and “Everybody Get Up” by Five and “Never Forget” by Take That, to his peers like Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody,” *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” and Blue’s “One Love,” to even the newer generation boybands with One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” The “romantic intimate” concert ended on an energetic high note and left both Brian and the audience members elated as we reminisced on the days before.
Despite singing songs made for five by himself, Brian held his own with his powerful vocal delivery coupled with his iconic raspy voice that brought both emotion and nostalgia for Westlife’s prime years. For the crowd filled with 90s kids, millennials, and Gen-Z kids, it was surreal hearing him sing several of his lines (and signature ad-libs) in 2019, 15 years after he left Westlife. Although he has said before that he does not plan on reuniting with his old bandmates, the joy he has in singing his old group’s song made it seem like he never left. The sheer energy he displayed in bringing his songs both old and new for his 90-minute set in the New Frontier Theater, as well as the hundreds of loyal fans who stood by him even after he left the band, made the atmosphere feel like it was the early 2000s all over again.
“Thank you for sticking with me for the past twenty years,” Brian said. “Let’s hope for another 20 years.”
Brian McFadden’s solo concerts both here in Manila and the day before at the Mediterranean Ballroom at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu were brought to you by EKG Productions, while Thai Royale Spa served as a primary sponsor.