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Take That Progress Skywards
Take That Progress Tour 2011
Member Name: rosebud2001
Take That Progress Tour 2011
Advantages: Robbie back in the band, "Shine" and "The Flood" were BIG production numbers
Disadvantages: Robbie's solo set was a bit under par for me, ticket prices, merchandise prices
I managed to get through most of the 90s by avoiding Take That. I liked a couple of their songs but by and large I found much of what they recorded to be a bit dull. I loved Robbie's debut solo album but then went off him a bit when I felt he got a bit too big for his boots. If anyone recalls his Knebworth shows they will know what I mean.
When Take That reformed I must admit to liking a few of the songs, but once again actually buying their albums wasn't really something I was in any great rush to do.
Fast forward to late 2009 and Robbie staged something of a comeback on The X Factor with a performance of "Bodies" that I personally found shambolic. My daughter, however, was mesmerised, and overnight she became a huge Robbie fan, buying up all his CDs (thank heavens for charity shops) and even taking an interest in the work he did with Take That.
Of course 2010 brought the reformation of Take That as a five piece with Robbie rejoining for the release of the album "Progress" and the announcement of a UK stadium tour in the summer of 2011. Upon hearing of this tour my daughter begged me to take her, and once we agreed the concert would form part of her Christmas present, I hunkered down online the day the tickets went on sale at 9.00 am. I finally secured a pair of tickets at 5.00 pm after numerous web crashes and near misses.
I don't really think I need to give people an introduction to Take That other than to say they have been around for 20 years now, starting out as very much a boy band aimed at the gay market before being discovered by teenage girls.
The Progress Tour is the biggest tour ever undertaken in the UK and when you learn that 1 million tickets were sold in the space of 24 hours you can understand why so many websites selling tickets crashed the day they went on sale.
It's the first tour featuring all five original TakeThat members since 1995 which will explain the huge demand for tickets. It's well known that everyone expected Gary Barlow to be the big solo star once Take That broke up and Robbie, who of course left the band acrimoniously, was viewed as a no-hoper. Robbie emerged victorious and superstardom followed but things started to go wrong for him following his bust up with co-writer and producer Guy Chambers and by the time the other four members of Take That reformed in 2006 his star was visibly on the wane.
Williams was initially dismissive about the Take That reunion and I must admit I was too, but "Patience" sucked me - and a large number of the UK populace - in and it's fair to say that since then Take That have confirmed themselves as one of the UK's most popular groups with tours and album sales which have left Williams distinctly in the shade.
Williams' decision to rejoin the group in 2010 had an air of inevitability about it. I must admit however I was a bit nervous about it when I saw him debut with a reformed Take That on The X Factor performing their new single "The Flood" - he looked desperate to hog the stage himself in places, seemingly forgetting he was a team player once more.
In the 8 months since I bought tickets for the Progress tour, Take That have released a few more singles from the album, and even released a repackaged version of the album featuring new songs. I must admit I haven't really listened to the album much, although I have enjoyed the singles because they haven't been typical Take That fodder. Much of this credit can go to Gary Barlow who is the group's main songwriter and is a credible musician in his own right, but I do think Robbie deserves a bit of credit with pushing the group more towards electro pop following his own interest in that area on "Radio Killed the Video Star".
The band played three concerts in Glasgow, and I got tickets to their final gig on Friday 24th June. I was pleased to hear the support act was the Pet Shop Boys - an act I still love even though they are 25 years past their heyday. My daughter was less impressed at this news but to be fair to her she sat politely through their set which comprised songs big enough and popular enough to entertain the crowd of mostly middle aged women.
I think it's fair to say my daughter was one of the youngest people in the audience - certainly where we were seated almost everyone was female and aged 35 or over. There's been much written in the press about women behaving badly at the concerts - and outside the venues - and certainly the huge bank of portable toilets located a good ten minute walk from Hampden Park, along with the lengthy queues forming to use them - would suggest that the authorities had taken note of complaints from residents.
Walking along to Hampden it seemed almost everyone had a drink in their hand and women were wearing t-shirts proclaiming which "team" they supported, be that Robbie, Gary, Mark, Howard or Jason, along with sparkling pink cowgirl hats, Playgirl style bunny ears which had flashing LED lights adding to the party atmosphere.
Obviously I was accompanying my 14 year old daughter so I was eschewing the drinking - although I must admit that even if I had been with a friend of a similar age to myself I wouldn't have bothered - Hampden does have lots of toilets but I didn't fancy getting up every few minutes to visit them so we didn't bother even with a bottle of water throughout the show.
The stage was overlooked by what can only be described as a "big man" in Glasgow parlance - of the kind featured on the cover of the Progress album. You could see this for miles from Hampden so large was it.
The band arrived on stage at 8.30 pm almost on the dot. There was an MC to introduce them and the concert started with the group as a four piece performing songs from Beautiful World and The Circus and I commenced with "Rule the World". This section was a great introduction as it started off in a low key manner with the band moving on to "The Greatest Day" and "Patience" all the while interacting wonderfully with the audience.
Mark told a rapt crowd that the band had apparently played their first ever gig in a small club in Glasgow 20 years previously, a piece of Take That information I must admit was news to me.
The sheer scale of the staging became apparent quite quickly - as well as the main stage there was a huge runway down to a second stage area which jutted out amongst the standing crowd on the pitch towards those in the stands. It was refreshing to see the group use both areas of the stage frequently - all too often I have seen this idea under utilised at concerts.
The first big set piece of the show however was "Shine" which featured a colourful caterpillar appear from the main stage and walk down to the second stage whilst Mark Owen sang his heart out. He was wearing a helmet covered in feathers, Red Indian headdress style, and rather triumphantly made his way back to the main stage riding the caterpillar, surrounded by dancers.
I enjoyed this but I suspect it will look much better when the DVD comes out and you can see things better - obviously the problem with a stadium concert is that no matter how big the staging you can only see what's shown on the big screens clearly - everything else is too far away really.
By now the crowd had really got going but the band then disappeared - to allow Robbie Williams to make his entrance with a rendition of "Let Me Entertain You". My daughter joined the crowd in going wild as he sang, but for me I found myself remembering why I stopped bothering with his music a while ago. For many, Robbie is the ultimate showman, but I find so much of his undoubtedly frenetic antics onstage to be clichéd and predictable these days.
So when he started singing "Angels" you knew he would ask the audience to sing along, holding the mike out to them, and there were many hand gestures which didn't strike me so much as showmanship, more a display of arrogance.
For all that, I did really enjoy how he performed Feel - he was positioned on a cradle which travelled the length of the long runway allowing him to "feel" the audience - or touch them. He's no fool either, ensuring he picked up a saltire flag to wear as he did this. You only have to say "Glasgow" or wear a saltire to have a Glasgow audience eating out of the palm of your hand.
At one point in his performance a rather bovine looking young woman lifted up her top to reveal her bare udders just as the cameras displayed her on the big screen. It was the only time the audience were quiet, with a split second of stunned silence before mass laughter followed. Robbie had spotted her and no doubt his attention made the fact she had been seen half naked in a crowd of over 50,000 people not quite as embarrassing.
There was a short break in proceedings for a costume change and then the band returned high up on the stage following a memorable dance sequence which was reminiscent of Spiderman with numerous dancers climbing the back of the stage on ropes and moving in perfect harmony. The crowd went wild as "The Flood" began and so they finally got to see all five members of Take That performing together.
I have to say this was the highlight of the show for me - even being far back from the stage I could appreciate the sheer scale of this production which involved water cascading beneath the group as they sang. There were many pyrotechnics throughout the show but the use of fast flowing water seemed more dramatic and was more memorable for me too.
Once the band came down on to the main stage I really came to understand why the work best as a five piece - and all the worries I had had about Robbie trying to upstage everyone else were unfounded - he seemed to slot right back in and I found his performances with the rest of Take That to be far more enjoyable and interesting than those on his own. He was able to let the spotlight shine on other members of the band whilst still displaying his own stage presence, particulary on "Kidz", which was another big production.
It was during this section of the show that a giant "big man" robot appeared and I have to say this was very impressive. I did wonder how much the staging had cost but then again my ticket wasn't cheap - I'd only secured the second best tickets and it still set me back £140 for two.
There was a nicely intimate section where the band, surrounding Gary at the piano, reminisced about old hits, singing a few refrains from the likes of "Babe", "Everything Changes" and 2A Million Love Songs2. That Take That were able to make this work in a venue as vast and impersonal as Hampden Park is a testament to their performing skills.
By the time they got to "Back for Good" the entire audience was on their feet singing along - me included - with "Pray" taking things up a notch. By now it had started to rain but the crowd didn't care and neither did Take That.
The concert proper came to an end with a rousing version of "Never Forget" which seemed a perfect ending for a show which had seen the prodigal son return to the fold. By this time the crowd were wild, enjoying more pyrotechnics and some rather wonderful lighting effects as darkness had fallen.
The encore comprised of "No Regrets" which was a nod to Robbie, before "Relight My Fire" ensured there wasn't one bum on a seat in the stadium.
I've reviewed several concerts where I have gone more as a chaperone for my daughter and not been particularly enthusiastic and usually I am won over by the talent of the performers she likes. Much as it pains me to admit it, I have to say Take That won me over. Even Robbie, who I found a little below par in his solo set, was brilliant once he joined the rest of the group and there was something rather touching about how generous each man was to the other - with Jason having his turn to shine with a breakdance routine and Howard doing his solo on "Never Forget" in amongst hits sung by Robbie, Gary and Mark.
One thing I did feel was obvious is if there is a main frontman in Take That it is Gary Barlow - he seems to be the glue that holds them together and it has to be said his droll delivery when engaging with the audience hides, I am guessing, a steely determination.
Robbie's banter with the audience was a bit more provocative, with him even referencing the superinjunction Howard had taken out to silence a former girlfriend, along with jokingly suggesting Jason had sacked him from the band.
However there seems to be a genuine affection between all five members and Robbie has announced he will be working with Gary on his next solo album - which I think is probably a good move with Barlow seemingly going through a purple patch creatively at the moment. All five members exuded a genuine warmth towards their fans in their performances and there's no doubt all of them wanted to make sure everyone in the audience had a great night.
This was a mammoth show in a mammoth venue and although I did really enjoy it, all the time I was thinking..."I wonder what that will look like on the DVD" and perhaps that's my only real criticism - you just cannot pick up everything that's going on in a show like this without good camera angles and careful composition.
Mammoth shows also have mammoth ticket prices and the merchandise wasn't cheap either - it cost £20 for a programme and we bought a couple of glowsticks for when it got dark which set us back £5 each - which really is ridiculous. Furthermore, the sound wasn't brilliant which I must admit I had expected in an outdoor gig but it was still a bit disappointing.
At the end of the day however this was an amazing experience, which enabled my daughter to see her idol and become an even bigger fan via her new found love for Take That themselves. And I've gone from being a bit ambivalent to having nice warm vibes so they even managed to win me over - and that's no mean feat.
Summary: An entertaining, if expensive, night out
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