17 December 2019 21:11
As with most heritage acts, music-making has become a means to an end for evergreen man-band Take That. Since becoming a trio following the departure of Robbie Williams and Jason Orange, their subsequent albums – the sporadically enjoyable III (2014) and woeful Wonderland (2017) – have focused on joylessly manufacturing stadium-size anthems to crowbar into set lists packed with more effervescent classics of the genre. Even last year's greatest hits collection Odyssey, featuring singles reworked to mark the band's 30th anniversary, came with a caveat from tax experimentalist Gary Barlow: "I don't give a shit whether the new album's a hit or not. Even if it's a flop, we're still going to go on tour [to] play to 600,000 people." So, while previous tours broke up the canon with increasingly less interesting material, or diverted your attention with 50ft robots or a full-on circus, tonight is chiefly about the hits. In fact, the 25-song set list mirrors the running order of Odyssey, with Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen arriving on stage inside what looks like a giant glitterball Pac-Man soundtracked by the blustery Greatest Day. Bedecked in shiny blue-and-red tracksuits that make them look like Team GB enthusiasts who can't let go of London 2012, they sprint through the hits – a pulsating It Only Takes a Minute, the disco-lite These Days and a frantic Could It Be Magic – like a band half their average age of 48.
In fact, as the show progresses and the potency of its nostalgia intensifies, time becomes irrelevant. Decades are traversed, an ageless Lulu cameos during Relight My Fire, and their cover of the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love is augmented by footage of Barry Gibb from the 70s. You can even purchase face masks of the trio in their 90s prime to pretend we're all teenagers again. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Time becomes irrelevant... Photograph: Goff Photos While shorn of the conceptual framework of recent tours, the songs are hung around snatches of old interviews, creating a loose retelling of their history. Ghosts return in the shape of a video appearance from Williams during an exuberant Everything Changes, and more literally in a short Jason Orange montage more akin to an in-memoriam tribute. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Williams' absence is felt more, but there's often enough to fill the void, from illuminated dancers dressed like peacocks during advert catnip Shine, to a strange diversion via Texas for Spin that involves Barlow in a fringed leather jacket sitting astride a Harley Davidson. Favouring enthusiasm over panache, Barlow becomes an oddly intriguing point of focus as the show progresses, unleashing a proper embarrassing-dad air-drum solo during the controlled histrionics of The Flood. It's just one of many familiar narratives during a show that gleefully relies on the comfort of rituals. It's a testament to the timelessness of the songs that no one needs reminding about the admittedly quite basic arm choreography during the choir-assisted Never Forget, or that in Back for Good – one of the greatest songs of the last few decades – the "uncovered again" bit is always slightly too high. Overall, it's a crowd-pleasing skip down memory lane that cements Take That's status as modern pop's most enduring elder statesmen.