Okay, I was wrong. Devastated by the departure of Jason Orange, seeing the band downsize to arenas from stadia, I thought Take That were well into the long decline. All I can say, after tonight seeing the now three-piece TT, there is plenty left in the tank.
Astonishingly, this was the third time I have seen the band. First, at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on The Circus tour, without Robbie Williams, and second at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium with him. There was no contest as to which the best gig was: the one without Robbie, by light years. But how would the band fare without not just Williams, but without Orange? As it turned out, rather well, and this was by far the best Take That show I have seen.
Naturally, the NEC in Birmingham was rammed to capacity, the downstairs seats removed to allow extra standing room. My son and I were there courtesy of my good friend Ben Weaver, also known as Ben Mark, also known as Ben Mark Weaver. Ben plays guitar for the band and he also writes some of their tunes. Hold Up A Light was one of his, so was Up All Night and, more recently, These Days was one of his too. And that one topped the charts. Ben was kind enough to meet us before the show and I am happy, but not in the least surprised, that he is the same Ben I knew a decade ago and longer. And I am even happier that his career at which he has worked so hard has now paid dividends. I love to see hard work rewarded and I like it even more when a talent is fulfilled. I can only imagine just how proud his father Mark is. I knew Mark before I met Ben. He must be bursting!
Take That, the trio, were simply irresistible. Of course, the show hangs on the brilliant singing, showmanship and self-deprecating humour of Gary Barlow, but the sheer energy of bandmates Howard Donald and Mark Owen defies belief. After introducing, “What’s left of Take That”, they belted through a packed set of old favourites, played as they should be played, faithful to the originals, and better still some songs from the latest album. Backed by an amazing display from their legion of dancers and performers, a stellar band including the aforementioned Ben Weaver’s brilliant guitar playing, they simply couldn’t disappoint and they didn’t.
It is hard to pick a favourite from the evening, but I will. Several favourites, actually. Pray was every bit as wonderful as it could have been, These Days was even rockier live than it was on the record but nothing, nothing, comes close to the closing song, Never Forget, sung with surprising panache by Howard Donald. I’m afraid I got up for some dubious dad dancing at this point. Sorry, son.
I don’t think it was down to low expectations because I didn’t really have any expectations, but I was more than pleased with what I saw and heard. Amazingly, this is a band of middle aged men which has morphed effortlessly from its boy band beginnings to a musical group of substance. No one would seriously suggest that Barlow can’t write a decent tune and tonight I got very close to forgiving him for supporting David Cameron in 2010.
“What’s left of Take That?” Well, quite a lot actually and strangely this incarnation seems to be stronger and more unified than ever before. I’d love to see Jason Orange back in the line up, if only for his dancing, but three is a good number.
Unlike other bands of their ilk, Take That take their band seriously. They are not hidden behind curtains or treated like some kind of minor backing band. They are a vital part of the show.
Oh, some of the show is cheesy, OTT and strangely reminiscent of the days of variety but none of these things are an accident. They’re still delivering the goods and my mate Ben is in the band, getting due reward for his long apprenticeship. Good guys can come first and win and he is a prime example!