If my 14-year-old self knew that one day I’d be standing watching my FOURTH Take That gig, he’d be disgusted with me. But, you grow up, you marry a Take That fan and your priorities change. And, honestly, I’d have missed out on a lot by being childish and muttering about ‘real music’ and ‘bloody boybands’. For one thing, I’d have missed my first chance to see one of my favourite bands, the Pet Shop Boys.
Obviously, a band like that trying to fit their back catalogue into a short support slot set was going to be tricky, but I’d already found out that I wouldn’t get to hear Being Boring (it would have been cruel to make any band follow that, I suppose), so I was just grateful for whatever they played. And it was a hit-tastic performance, with Heart, Go West, Suburbia, It’s A Sin and West End Girls, along with newer singles like Together and Love Etc to prove that they’ve never really lost their touch.
And even though they were only a support act, they still managed to fill the stage with their trademark dancers in quirky costumes and energetic routines, so it was the perfect warm-up for the main act, and they were received as warmly as you’d hope, despite the onset of ominous drizzle. Of course, politeness aside, everyone was there for one reason, to see Take That restored to a five-piece for the first time since I was 14 (see what I did there?).
The complicated procedure of fitting everything in means that it’s a slightly fragmented show, starting off with four-piece Take That doing their ‘post-reform, pre-Robbie’ hits, then Robbie Williams doing his solo bit, before the whole band unite for the ‘pre-split, post-reform-with-Robbie’ stuff. That all clear? Surprisingly it all makes sense in the context of the tour, and actually works very well.
If there was a danger that the opening section could seem a little underwhelming in comparison to what was to follow, Take That’s legendary reputation for putting on a show means that they avoid that. By the end of it, they’re performing Shine surrounded by Alice In Wonderland characters, with Mark Owen riding The Caterpillar from the mini-stage back to the main stage before the group disappear ‘into’ the TV screen to introduce Robbie, with the help of a singing White Rabbit, of course.
And the switch between Take That and Robbie’s return was thrillingly-executed. First appearing on the screen before leaping/running from the top of it down onto the stage (with the help of a wire, obviously) and launching into Let Me Entertain You, he comes across like the world’s greatest rock star, playing up his ‘bad boy of the group’ image perfectly after the sweet loveliness of what had preceded him. It’s certainly a world away from the shambolic performances on The X-Factor that had marked his solo decline over recent years.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t really maintain that momentum, even if the god-awful Rock DJ (no-one will ever convince me otherwise) goes down really well and is delivered with as much gusto. His mini-set could have been cut by a couple of songs without losing much (Come Undone and Feel weren’t exactly essential) and it would have given more time for classic Take That hits towards the end. Of course, you can’t really argue with Angels, so I won’t bother.
When he departs to return with the boys, the changeover isn’t done quite as well as it might have been, with a fair bit of ‘costume change nonsense’ (ie, superfluous stunts used in big gigs to fill time) before the five appear to sing The Flood at the top of the scaffolding. It’s a little underwhelming for such a momentous moment in the show, even when Robbie then ‘flies’ down to the stage (with the rest getting the lift).
The momentum flags a bit during this new album section of the gig, which is always a risk, and they play two songs too many from it. I’m not sure the first one was, but it involved lots of drumming and former boyband members playing guitars, while the second one, Pretty Things, only perked up when the ballerina’s rain-soaked dress fell off at the end. Things pick up again when they bring out the big guns like Back For Good, A Million Love Songs and Pray, before the always-impressive Never Forget (helped by the giant robot-man standing up behind them), which for me has been the highlight of all four of the gigs I’ve seen.
The question remains as to whether this will be it for Take That’s full reunion, most people seem to think it will be, and having seen this show, it looks like it will be a win-win for both the band and for Robbie Williams. Their popularity as a four-piece and their ability to put on amazing live shows would be undiminished by his departure, while he looked reborn as a solo artist during his part of the night. The fans, meanwhile, got another incredible show to enjoy as well the thrill of seeing the original line-up back together. And I got to see the Pet Shop Boys into the bargain. Take THAT, 14-year-old me…