A year ago, you could hardly move for Nelly Furtado. She was launched as the "new Madonna". Her Portuguese-Canadian features glistened from every magazine; I'm Like a Bird was flying high in the charts. A year on, she is playing the final leg of a world tour called Burn in the Spotlight, a curious title for a 23-year-old's debut. Or maybe not. The Manchester gig is switched from a larger venue at the last minute; more ominously, the smaller Academy is half full. Maybe the appeal of elfin, high-voiced girls is starting to wane. Maybe, more likely, the hordes that bought her Woah, Nelly! album have decided there just aren't enough good songs on it to warrant shelling out to hear them again.
Furtado seems undaunted, bouncing on as if she were playing a packed London Palladium. But then, she has always been professional. She would be professional if she were playing to five people in Digbeth Rotters, which, at this rate, may yet await her. The show is slick and American, big on production values but low on content. Nelly and the band all wear "Nelly Furtado" T-shirts, which is helpful if we have forgotten who she is.
Furtado doesn't lack gumption, but she seriously lacks material. The once-proud boast of writing her own songs is starting to look very hollow. She abandons them in favour of a Missy Elliott cover, a toe-curlingly awful, squeaky hip-hop medley, and repeatedly desperate shouts of "Manchestahh".
Hey, Man! has some intriguing lyrics about self-doubt and a rousing chorus that at last creates some atmosphere, but the audience have come to hear I'm Like a Bird. Deep down, Furtado knows this, but over-eggs the pudding by getting the crowd to sing the song. This does at least provide relief from her voice, which has two sounds - shrill, or shriller.
Furtado has got a long way on one great song and a lot of adrenalin. She was flying like a bird last summer - but suddenly it looks a long way down.