When Take That roll into town, they certainly don’t do so quietly. The sale of tickets for Progress Live 2011 caused an absolute frenzy last October and the sensible raincoats and cowboy hats are out in force as the stadium gradually fills up to the sounds of the Pet Shop Boys. The excitement is palpable – singing and dancing along to ‘Go West’, ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘West End Girls’ proves an excellent warm up for the main event.
In comparison to 2009’s spectacular Circus tour, tonight sees a surprisingly no frills entrance – a brief greeting, and then Gary, Howard, Jason and Mark begin with acoustic rendition of ‘Rule The World’, the sound of a capacity Croke Park singing along in unison is an absolute treat. The full band kicks in for verse two – and Progress Live officially takes off. Confetti, explosions, fireworks, and a supporting cast of dancing trees, roller-skating bees and a huge caterpillar – just another day at the Take That office.
As the four depart to make way for Robbie Williams’ re-introductory solo set, the crowd are given their first glimpse of four becoming five with a big-screen interlude of the boys’ own take on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and then it’s time – the top of the screen opens up, and there he is. “Remember me?!” bellows Williams before soaring down towards the stage on suspension cables, the intro of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ ringing out amidst a flurry of explosions and flames. The ego has well and truly landed. The reception that Robbie receives is unbelievable – however, this adoration does deplete as his set progresses, and the reason is simple – he’s just not as good as he used to be. While Gary, Howard, Jason and Mark have all improved and evolved through the years, sadly the same cannot be said for Robbie. His solo songs were hits for a reason, they’re not the problem – there’s just nothing new about him. The banter which would’ve at one time been perceived as charming and tongue-in-cheek now just seems cocky and abrasive. Williams finishes up his set with ultimate crowd-pleaser ‘Angels’ (and a promise about that infamous free gig which he hasn’t forgotten about, will happen soon), and it’s time for Take That to be properly reunited.
A stunning display of choreographed abseiling on a wall of water precedes the group’s arrival at the highest point of the stage to perform ‘The Flood’. This part of the show is all about Progress, including an emphatic performance of ‘S.O.S’ and an old-school dance battle between Jason & Howard to get the crowd swooning for ‘Kidz’. Progress was the biggest selling album of 2011 yet strangely the majority of the crowd seem unfamiliar with it, far happier when the band embrace the old with the aid of just a piano and guitar for a medley including ‘A Million Love Songs’, ‘Babe’, and ‘Everything Changes’. The subsequent duo of ‘Back for Good’ and ‘Pray’ prove to be the highlight of the show – with the biggest screams of the night reserved for the execution of the original dance routine to the latter.
‘Love Love’ ups the ante again, as the giant mechanical man who has been gradually working his way out from the shadows throughout the show takes on a role centre-stage, before moving out into the middle of the stadium. This monster, nicknamed ‘Om’, stands to attention (all 20 metres of him) lit up for main set closer ‘Never Forget’ with 80,000 people singing the chorus with arms outstretched was a truly special moment. There’s a brief break before an encore of Robbie’s lyrically apt ‘No Regrets’, an explosive performance of ‘Relight My Fire’, and Progress album closer ‘Eight Letters’.
Despite the fact that his return to the fold has boosted their profile even further, in truth the inclusion of Williams adds nothing more to the show than a nostalgia element – which as we learned from The Circus tour two years ago is something that Take That don’t need to rely on anymore. A five song Robbie Williams solo set was completely excessive considering the calibre of the four-piece Take That’s recent releases. It was a real shame that massive pop singles ‘Greatest Day’, ‘Rule The World’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Patience’ were all crammed together into the opening segment of the show, and that the quality album tracks from both Beautiful World and The Circus were completely sacrificed to accommodate Williams. The likely post-tour outcome will be the departure of Williams on good terms to rejuvenate his solo career, and the continuation of Take That as a four-piece – and, much as it goes against the beliefs of my 10-year-old fanatic self, it’ll be for the best.