September 15, 2023
The O2, London
It’s no secret that the journey to Sugababes’ headline debut at The O2 has been a turbulent one more than two decades in the making, but on Friday night Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy emerged ‘through the storm’ and delivered a non-stop set of classics from their decades-spanning catalogue.
That line is, of course, lifted from the band’s new single, When The Rain Comes; a soulful mid tempo worlds away from the hyper electro-pop that ultimately characterised the final chapter of the group back in 2011, instead leaning into the soundscape of their classic debut, ‘One Touch’ (2000), and conjuring a full-circle narrative reflecting on their path so far.
Arriving near the end of the set, the rapturous response from the energised crowd assembled at the London landmark – for what, to the most hardcore fans at least, was less a Friday night out and more a religious gathering 20+ years in the making – was on par with the reaction to classics like opening number Push The Button and 2000s favourites Red Dress, Ugly and Hole In The Head.
Drawing largely on material from their first four albums, much of the set followed the pattern of their recent shows, with the omission of the Top 10 Xenomania-produced banger In The Middle allowing for the reintroduction of Shape – their 2003 Sting-sampling ballad – to the show for the first time in over 15 years.
Looking back even further following footage of the teenage ‘Babes chatting about the band (which the school pals formed aged 11) during the time of their first LP, an extended set from ‘One Touch’ saw the first-ever performance of its title song, along with the return of Lush Life and One Foot In after more than 20 years away. Referencing the recent expanded reissue of that record, performances of the singles Overload and Run For Cover were interspersed with updated remixes from Majestic and MNEK, respectively.
A B-stage set of the ballads Too Lost In You, Stronger and Beat Is Gone – one of only three songs performed from their most-recent album, ‘The Lost Tapes’ (a surprising move, considering the record and its imagery was a recurring theme across a limited run of merchandise for the show) – showcased the impeccable harmonies of the trio, a quality that was gradually lost over the course of Sugababes’ initial run but that stands out now as the true brilliance of the girls’ offering.
Returning to the main stage for their first chart-topper, Freak Like Me, before rounding out the set with the double-punch of Round Round and About You Now – complete with an a capella sing along and confetti moment that turned the 20,000 capacity venue into a real-life snow globe – offered further proof of the band’s arsenal of killer hits.
Twenty-songs heavy and with plenty of material still in their reserves, it’s a nice problem for any group to have and in crafting this one-off set, the trio played to their strengths, combining crowd-pleasing bangers with lush ballads showcasing their harmony blend as a welcome reminded of the definitive Sugababes sound.
Two decades into their career, their first O2 gig surely won’t be their last, and it’s the presentation of When The Rain Comes that gives a blueprint for the band going forward: flanked by dancers and fronted by the effortlessly cool trio, it offers a new formula for the Sugababes show and, with an album in the pipeline next year, no doubt something they’re already planning towards…
When The Rain Comes is out now digitally and available to pre-order on CD and 7″ vinyl from Sugababes’ online store.
Setlist: Sugababes @ The O2, London
1. Push The Button
2, Red Dress
3, Hole In The Head
6, Run for Cover (Original into the MNEK Remix)
8, Shape (First time since 2007)
9, One Touch (Live debut)
10. Lush Life (First time since One Touch era)
11. One Foot In (First time since One Touch era)
12. Overload (Original into the Majestic Remix)
13. Flowers (Sweet Female Attitude cover)
14. Too Lost in You
15. Beat Is Gone (Live debut)
17. Freak Like Me (Adina Howard cover)
18. When the Rain Comes (Live debut)
19. Round Round
20. About You Now