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Friday, July 01, 2011

Live Review: Take That - Villa Park 28/6/11

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This review will probably be a lot less gushy than a lot of what has been said already, I'm sure whoever's judging this has already read enough variations of "OMG Best nite eva! Luv u Robbie! xoxo!" than anyone should ever have to so I might as well say now, in case anyone gets the wrong impression from all of the seemingly negative things I'm about to say here, that I really did enjoy the show. Honest.

I know you probably all don't care what the weather was like that day or how much hassle I had getting into the stadium (not much, actually!) so let's get right down the action, and action there was when the Pet Shop Boys came on. Now, I've never fully gotten into the band before, I liked a few of their songs, mainly the big hits, but I'd never bought an album by them and probably wouldn't have given them a second thought if it hadn't been for this concert, but it took maybe 30 seconds of opening song "Heart" to convince me that this is a band I need to hear more of. Peppering their number 1 hits through a set of solid pop songs, they were just pure quality from start to finish. Okay, they could be criticised for a lack of stage presence, they bring stadium raising energy in the same way that Paddy McGuinness brings quality comedy but it seems that the majority of the crowd were old enough to be familiar with the band and don't expect much more than a few dancers and some colourful cubes stuck to the wall to brighten things up, and it really says something about the quality of the songs that two men can play a stadium with minimal movement and still have everyone loving it. Fantastic stuff!

And so we come to the main attraction. Two things to note here: 1. I had read the setlist/show set-up before coming to the concert and 2. I'm what Robbie jokingly referred to in the show as a "Take That fundamentalist," ie. I prefer them as a four piece, so the first part of the show was the bit I was looking forward to most, just Gary, Mark, Howard, Jason and tunes from 2 of the best albums ever made, and it certainly did not disappoint. The intro was slightly underwhelming to say the least, there are no balloons or podiums here, the boys looked a bit like your dad might if he wondered into the room and then forgot why he came in, but as with the Pet Shop Boys, the lack of showmanship was more than made up for with the music. I shouldn't need to tell you the setlist for this part as it was predictable as the tides, save for "Hold Up A Light," my favourite song on The Circus which I'd previously held out as much hope for as I would for ever hearing "Never Wanna Let You Go" but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. The only real problem with this part was the aforementioned lack of spectacle, it was suspiciously low key, I'll come back to that soon but other than that, brilliant.

And as Robbie drops from the ceiling of the stadium to an array of fireworks and pyro we start to see just why the first part was so minimal, and it's for the same reason you take a slightly obese friend out with you when you're trying to meet women, as the general feeling among the crowd during Robbie's set was one of "Yeah, now it's getting good!" I don't know if the boys intentionally took a hit on this one for Robbie's sake but he certainly takes full advantage of their kindness and proceeds to blow literally everyone away, I honestly did not see anyone who wasn't at least singing, dancing or smiling. The setlist was again hugely predictable, and I do have to criticise the focus on Robbie's old hits. Now, I thought the idea of Robbie having a solo set was that "Present day Robbie" = "Present day TT," an idea ever so slightly undermined by the fact that no material from the (pretty decent) most recent Robbie album is played (come on, You Know Me would have been *perfect*!!) and that the most recent song aired during his set was 8 years old, which to me is just admitting that Robbie as a solo artist is now a nostalgia act but even I have to admit that it's a damn good one, "Come Undone" and "Feel" are still as perfect as ever and if you don't at least cry a little bit at "Angels" then you're probably dead.

Now this is the part of the night that everyone's been waiting for, Take That, on stage, as a five piece, and as they kicked things off in spectacular style with a dancer-covered wall of water for "The Flood" and fireworks and walls of pyro to personal favourite "SOS" I knew this would be something special. I was a little skeptical of the setlist for this section, mostly because most of my favourites from "Progress" were missing and no songs from the recently released and absolutely awesome "Progressed" album were featured but I pretty much stopped caring as the boys broke out their instruments for "Underground Machine" and climbed into Om the robots' hand for "Pretty Things." "Kidz" is worthy of particular mention for the epic Howard vs. Jason dance-off to "Rudebox" in the middle, and I'm obviously echoing the sentiments of everyone else when I say that these men, despite being in their 40's (!) have still got it, busting out flawless moves and making me feel very self-conscious about my current state of fitness. I'm slightly tempted to criticise Robbie for forcing himself on yet another part of the show, with one of his most hilariously bad songs, no less, but it was so hilarious and effective that I'll let it slide, this time.

Next up was what I refer to as the "Shameless Nostalgia" section of the show. This is the section that most of the audience, which seemingly consisted of mostly casual fans, had been been hanging in there for, during which the boys sat with a piano and guitar and busted out some oldies while engaging in some entertaining but obviously very scripted "comedy" banter. Yeah, it's pleasant and fun but it's nothing spectular, which can also be said of the following performances of "Back For Good" and "Pray," of course I enjoyed them but this whole bit just felt too safe and unexciting. The energy kicks right back up for newest single "Love Love" though, as their much talked about robot is actually put to decent use as it carries the boys out into the crowd to one of the best recent TT songs, and following this with "Never Forget," which as I've previously written is the best song of all time, made this my favourite part of the night.

The "encore" then, and another Robbie track, we haven't had enough of those tonight! As a quick aside, why is it just Robbie's solo material that's featured? I can't be the only one that would have loved to have heard the boys sing "Four Minute Warning" or "Forever Love," right!? Anyway, "No Regrets" is luckily another personal favourite and having all 5 five lads singing it makes it sound even better so I can certainly forgive that, and the following, relatively stripped down performance of "Relight My Fire" raises the energy level sky high, which makes me wonder why it didn't follow "Never Forget" but I'm just nitpicking, now. I was very pleased that "Eight Letters" was the final song of the night as it's a fantastic song, but I was slightly disappointed at the mass crowd exodus during this song, complete lack of respect for the band and again seems to suggest that most people are writing the show off as a nostalgia fest and leaving after the hits and it did sour the atmosphere somewhat for me but that's not the boys fault and they performed the song beautifully, superb end to the show.

I think my main problem with the show, and the reason I haven't been gushing about it like everyone else seems to be is that, to me, the show felt too divided and fractured. Although I didn't see the last tour live, I have seen the DVD a thousand times and to be honest it looked a lot better than this tour, mainly because it felt like one complete show, whereas the Progress show put me in mind of seeing metal concerts with 3-4 support acts, so as the 5 piece Take That finish after 12 songs it feels like there should be a hell of a lot more to come, and it just felt disappointing when it didn't. A small nitpicky problem is that the setlist is far too safe and predictable for my liking but, judging from the crowd silence during "Underground Machine," it seems most of the crowd were casual fans who just wanted the hits and wouldn't have appreciated hearing "Sleepwalking" or "Throwing Stones"  so kudos to the boys for understanding their audience, at least. I would have also liked a section similar to the section of the last tour where they all played instruments but meh, you can't have everything.

My other main problem with the show is that there is *way* too much focus on Robbie Williams, 6 of his solo songs are featured, all of the Progress tracks feature him in some way, it's just too much! Some of us actually like the other members too, y'know! I've never met one Take That fan who *just* loves Robbie or *just* loves Gary, I love Howard and Jason and hearing them sing lead on songs like "What is Love" and "How Did It Come to This" were some of the highlights of the last tour, for me, and here they're pretty much ignored in favour of Robbie, and more Robbie, and then a bit more of Robbie! At times, it did feel a bit like a Robbie Williams show with hugely overqualified backing singers so if that sounds good to you then you're in for a treat!

Overall: It does seem I'm in the minority of people who aren't willing to remortgage their house to go again. Maybe my expectations were too high, I don't know... Like I said earlier, I really did enjoy the show, my reviewing style, if you can call it that, is pretty much based around negativity and pedantry so it may seem like I'd spent the night cutting myself and crying but it was a great show. Honest!
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