Take That at 3Arena – Review and Photos
There’s a certain set of rules that normally apply to manufactured boybands, a staple of the pop music genre that had its heyday in the mid-nineties to early noughties. If you are really popular you tend to get a shelf life of somewhere between 5 and 10 years, though moderately popular acts such as A1, Blue and 911 are awarded significantly less. You also need to have a ‘bad boy’ type to appeal to the more rebellious section of your largely female teenage audience. A.J McLean (Backstreet boys) Shane Lynch (Boyzone) and J (he of no surname from 5ive) relished playing this role, with shaved heads, eye brow piercings and tattoos aplenty to drive the message home. If a founding member leaves, you put on a brave face and hobble on with diminishing returns before bowing out. If a second member leaves, it usually pulls the trigger to put an act out of its misery. The Take That of today however, confound such wisdom. Keeping true to these rules, the group disbanded in 1996 following the departure of their own resident bad boy Robbie Williams. They called it a day as Williams began his solo career and went on to have…oh a minor hit or two, and the rest vanished from public life following a lack of interest in their own solo projects. Many an eyebrows was raised when the group announced their comeback in 2006 without Williams. Pioneers of the reforming band craze that took hold over the next few years, Take That surpassed expectations by returning even more popular than in their 90’s prime, except this time round, rather than belting out Barry Manilow covers whilst wearing crop tops, they showed a newfound musical maturity based on solid songwriting and now rocked up in slick designer suits, sporting 3 day beards.
Tonight’s show, their first in Dublin since the gargantuan spectacle of the Progress tour four years ago, sees the band with something of a point to prove. Previous albums Beautiful World and The Circus had the fresh novelty of being the group’s comeback records, while 2011’s Progress barley needed their record label to put forward any budget for promotion given the hysteria surrounding Williams return, but new album III has not garnered the same attention it perhaps deserves. Following a confusing intro featuring circus style tricks by tonight’s large supporting cast of stage hands, the band emerge to deafening screams before starting into the Muse meets Scissor Sisters glitter stomp of ‘I Like It’. It’s clear from the outset that tonight is going to be so much more than 3 men singing the hits on the vast 3Arena stage. With a 7 piece backing band and a 20+ supports cast comprising of acrobats, unicyclists and string sections, tonight’s set design has the air of an expensively lavish musical. Following up with ‘Love Love’ and the always glorious ‘Greatest Day’, the band aren’t afraid of dropping such crowd pleasers into the set early on, knowing they have a treasure chest full of ‘A’ grade material to choose from. Far from resting on their laurels, they bravely slot many new songs into the opening hour of the show. That the energy in the arena never wanes is proof that the new material maintains the high quality of previous albums. As the opening chords of ‘Patience’ sound out, the predominantly female audience are in full voice. A power ballad (in the best possible sense) it encapsulates why the band have such a special place in so many people’s hearts. Having a certain Gary Barlow as principal songwriter is the main reason why Take That have had such an enduring career. Boyzone and the rest might still be going strong were they lucky enough to be thrown together with such a top songwriter in the early audition process . Tonight’s set, while heavy with new material, is devoid of any real filler, something that very few boyband’s live shows can boast. While it is strange to see the band now functioning as a three piece, any fears that their usual lush harmonies would be thinner minus their departed members are allayed as their backing band double up as vocalists ensuring that, musically at least, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams are not missed.
Act two of a sprawling show sees the band dip into material from their 2009 album The Circus, as the stage is revealed from under a large white curtain to show the spectacular sight of an array of gigantic inflatable plants and floating Jellyfish as the band assemble around the piano to sing pretty ballad ‘The Garden’. Few bands have the courage (or budget) to turn the 3Arena into a giant underwater-themed garden. The Simon & Garfunkel style harmonies of ‘Up All Night’ follows, before the underrated epic ‘Said It All’ closes the show’s mid-section. The quality of the material pulled from the last decade makes the older material seem… well, a bit dated, and the up-tempo oldies ‘Could It Be Magic’ and ‘Relight My Fire’ seem ill at ease alongside modern pop songs like ‘Let In The Sun’ and the forward thinking synth pop of ‘Affirmation’. One gets the feeling they purely take their place on the setlist as nostalgic crowd pleasers, which is a smart move as both go down a storm.
Now part of the canon of great British pop songs, the timeless ‘Back For Good’ still sounds as brilliant as it did the day it was first released. Another one of Barlow’s finest moments as a songwriter, ‘The Flood’ soars in a live setting with pouring rain projected behind the band as an apt backdrop. Like most of tonight’s set, it is a spectacular sight to behold even if the song does lack Robbie Williams’ distinctive lead vocal. No such problems are found on ‘These Days’, the first song the band released as a trio which resulted in another no.1 hit. With disco style guitar work and a wonderful chorus hook, it is received as enthusiastically as any other song tonight which is an achievement in itself. Ending the night with ‘Never Forget’, one of the great pop songs of the 90s (or any other decade for that matter), it will bring many audience members back to the days of 1995 and the band’s early triumphs at the Smash Hits awards. It’s easy to forget what an ambitious moment this was for pop music songwriting. Featuring a children’s choir intro, and not reaching its goose bump inducing chorus until a full two minutes in, such a song would sadly be unthinkable in today’s pop music landscape. Yet the passage of time has only made the song more poignant, as Barlow sings “we’re not invincible”, the words ring true in a way he could never have envisaged back in 1995.
Having broke up once, lost Robbie Williams not once but twice, and seen Jason Orange another original member depart last year, Take That have had their fair share of bumps on their 20 year journey as a group. But having come back stronger than ever each time, they could be viewed as the great survivors of British pop music. Tonight they prove they are as good as ever. With a huge production that is as big as it gets in an arena, spectacular visuals and, most importantly, a selection of brilliant songs that seem to get better with the passage of time, the now fully grown Take That show all other boy bands how it’s done.