Arriving on what can only be described as a giant Scalextric set where the stage usually is, it’s clear that Take That’s reputation for ‘putting on a show’ is still present and correct – no matter what changes have taken place of late. Ella Henderson and her Ryan Tedder-produced, drum-powered ballad set warms up the audience, and then it’s time for the former five-some, then four, then five again, but now only three (“We’re what’s left of Take That!”) to hit the stage. After a hugely intricate set-up involving home-made bicycles and human hamster wheels that feed into a Cirque Du Soleil-esque tale of love powering the world, the man-band arrive to the Muse-like aggressively sexy rock-pop of ‘I Like It’, an album track from their most recent but least acclaimed album to date. Flawlessly melding into the sci-fi stomp of ‘Love Love’, the trio immediately command the arena and maintain a hypnotic power over the crowd for the next two hours.
Even if there’s barely half of the original line-up left, as Mark Owen continues to slowly turn into Richard Hammond, Howard Donald (the other other one) and Gary Barlow mostly – and correctly – taking front and centre throughout, it’s as if they’ve rallied together to deliver each song as if it could be the show-stopping finale. ‘Greatest Day’ followed by ‘Get Ready For It’ followed by ‘Hold Up A Light’ have the capacity crowd singing along euphorically in unison, before the stage is shrouded in a giant sheet and a massive shadow-puppet show was put on the soundtracks ‘The Garden’, only for the curtain to be pulled back and reveal an aquatic wonderland complete with giant jelly-fish and friendly squids.
It can’t be overstated just how big a production is behind this tour, with some set-ups lasting over several tracks, while others get their own special individual moments; ‘Let In The Sun’ has a fire-work laden trapeze artist, ‘Portrait’ finds the lads on a whimsical gyrocopter tour of the room, ‘Relight My Fair’ is performed against the background of a chorus of disco-Geishas and kung-fu warriors, but perhaps most striking of all is Gary singing ‘Flaws’ solo while Mark and Howard perform a very homoerotic interpretive dance around the entirety of the massive stage.
While the usual crowd interaction is evident (“Dublin is always the best crowd to play to!”, “let’s take a moment to introduce our band!”, etc.), it is in the smaller moments that Take That’s true personality still manages to shine through. Starting off with the stripped back version of ‘Could It Be Magic’, Gary suddenly announces ‘I don’t want to do the ballad version!’ before the raucous hi-tempo original kicks it, introducing the pre-encore ‘Rule The World’ and telling the crowd “but we have a few highly choreographed songs that we might do afterwards…”, or the genuine moment of giddiness that all three of them can’t hide when the crowd keep ‘These Days’ going for surprise additional chorus.
Impressively mashing in some of their more cutting-edge and lesser known tracks such as ‘Affirmation’ or ‘The Flood’ with classics ‘Pray’ and ‘Never Forget’, it’s even more impressive that songs like ‘Back For Good’ (two decades old) sound even more relevant and layered now that it’s being sung by a group of 40+ year olds, men who truly understand what heart-break is. Sure, everyone in the crowd probably has that one song that they’re disappointed by its absence (“Where was ‘Underground Machine’ or ‘Kidz’?!”), nobody there could claim to be hard-done by. Twenty five songs spanning one of the most interestingly eclectic careers in modern pop music, Take That have laid claim to one of the best gigs in Dublin in quite some time.