Review: Busted at the Newcastle O2 Academy

There were a number of clues that this wasn’t going to be the kind of show Busted’s fans have come to expect. Firstly, the venue itself: the intimate setting of Newcastle’s O2 Academy was a world away from the arenas that played host to their 2016 comeback tour. Similarly, the presence of multiple synthesisers on stage predicated a slew of material from their new album Night Driver.

Natives, the sole opening act, set the scene with an unorthodox offering of ‘70s-influenced tribal alternative rock

Nonetheless, the fans appreciated the opportunity to enjoy a Busted concert in a standing area rather than the regimented seating blocks that often take away from the excitement of an arena show. 

Natives, the sole opening act, set the scene with an unorthodox offering of ‘70s-influenced tribal alternative rock, full of psychedelic effects and driving kick drum beats. At times it was difficult to know what to make of them, but their set ramped up the excitement in the room prior to Busted’s arrival.

Anyone turning up to hear the hits will have been disappointed with the trio of new songs that opened the set. The second song, ‘Thinking of You’, fell a little flat, but the crowd really started to get into the evening with the undeniably catchy single ‘On What You’re On’.  However, the excitement only began to crescendo to fever pitch with the first old song of the evening – ‘Air Hostess’. James Bourne happily sacrificed his verse to enjoy the rendition of the Newcastle crowd.

Earlier reviews of this tour have regularly criticised the unnatural blend of Busted’s old and new material. There is some substance to this complaint, but the synth-heavy reworking of the popular hit ‘Who’s David?’ proved that the divergent styles are not wholly irreconcilable. That said, the stand-out song of the night from Night Driver was ‘I Will Break Your Heart’, an upbeat, largely acoustic number that represents a departure from their new style in favour of a sound more akin to the Everly Brothers.

The main set came to an end with an assault of early 21st century hits. ‘Sleeping With The Light On’ still stands up as an enduring ballad of lost love. ‘Crashed the Wedding’ represents the very best of classic Busted cheese. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly a darker take on the borderline anthem ‘3am’.

Anyone turning up to hear the hits will have been disappointed with the trio of new songs that opened the set.

Barely an hour had passed since the start of the show when the unmistakable opening riff of ‘Year 3000’ sent the pit into a frenzy of pogoing and singing. In another nod to their musical change of direction, this didn’t mark the end of the set. Busted returned to the stage with a punked-up ‘What I Go To School For’ before wrapping up with new tracks ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Those Days Are Gone’.  One couldn’t help but presume that the choice of closer was a deliberately to fans to leave their pop-rock origins in the past.

In other ways, Busted remain exactly as we remember them. Charlie Simpson’s vocals are still vastly superior to either James Bourne or Matt Willis. Yet Matt provides more stage presence than his two band mates combined, and one gets the feeling that James’s quiet musicality is the glue that holds everything together.

Credit: Sam Betley

It’s difficult to know what the future holds for Busted. Who knows where they expected Night Driver to take them in commercial terms? One certainty is that they will never fill arenas with synth-pop. It might even be a stretch to do so by playing more of their back catalogue. There may well be no long-term place for Busted in the mainstream music scene. For a band used to playing much larger venues, it is hard to see the appeal in playing intimate shows forevermore. A final arena tour might be a fitting way to end a moderately successful comeback.

In the meantime, it’s good to have them back.

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