It would be remiss to ignore the fact that the reunion caused splits within both the Take That and Robbie Williams fan bases. Perhaps the initial reasoning behind the 3-in-1 format and the release of the documentary “Look Back, Don’t Stare”, was an attempt to unite the differing fractions. Whether it has appeased the few but loud voiced detractors remains to be seen, if the reception each night at the Wembley gigs was anything to go by, Williams and co need not worry.
Compared to their previous tour Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Jason Orange (TT4) entered in a rather subdued manor, but to rapturous applause. Barlow quietens the crowd, allowing the foursome to launch the show with “Rule the World”. TT4 then welcomed the crowd with individual speeches of gratitude, and Owen’s acknowledgment of the national stadium, by leading the crowd into a round of the national anthem. The audience seemed more interested in screaming at their idols, than showing their patriotism, it was a good sing-a-long nonetheless.
The performance of Shine, which concluded part 1 of the show, brought together the razzamatazz that many fans have come to expect. A quick costume change and the large dance troop, including one dressed as Williams’ rabbit character from the video of the 2009 hit “You Know Me”, aids to the glorious spectacle. It’s a nice touch to see that the song written by Owen about his friend marks the link to part 2, the Robbie Williams show. Via a teaser video, four become five briefly, performing a re-worked version of the Beatle’s “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. After which the stadium erupted with everyone in the 80,000 plus capacity stadium not already standing, simultaneously leaping to their feet. Reminiscent to his 2001 Knebworth entrance, Williams descends from the screen high above the stage, landing to a triumphant standing ovation.
Belting out “Let me entertain you”, with an energy missed from the British music scene for at least 5 years, Williams continued to rocket through his solo set, adding in a few comic turns, and delighting the crowd with his standards including “Come undone” and “Feel”. Williams ends his section with the iconic “Angels” leaving the audience still on their feet, crying out for more.
They don’t have long to wait – after a brilliant display of acrobatics involving the signature water cascade, the full complement of Take That members return to the stage to conduct a powerful rendition of “The Flood”, the single that heralded the reunion.
The set piece of the show, was the performance of “Kidz”. The tour version of the song includes a break allowing Donald and Orange a conduct an old school style dance off on a stylised chess board, flanked by dancers dressed as chess pieces. Kudos has to be showered on Donald and Orange with their extraordinary ability to out dance and out class hoofers, some half their age. Williams also gets to practice his rapping with segments from Rudebox and Apache 1993, the effect of which works well.
There’s plenty of humorous banter and with a light hearted dig about Owen and William’s teetotalism, coupled with copious public displays of affection, bottom pinching and general larking about. They may be grown men, but the boyhood charms are still evident, much to the delight of the audience.
Another of the show’s highlights features the original line up performing the boy band dance routine to the classic number 1 hit “Pray”. If nothing else this represents the band as a united front, back together singing and dancing in unison. Even Barlow’s dance moves have greatly improved. Other highlights include the performance of “Love Love”, as OM carried the group from the main stage to the B stage, followed by an emotionally- charged performance of “Never Forget”.
The production values for Progress Live have by far surpassed that of the 2009 Circus tour in terms of quantity and quality. The vocal harmonies are slick, the performances are near perfect, you can tell this former boy band have grown up into one that can finally be included in the same sentence as the likes of Oasis and Coldplay. There will always be detractors of course, but as Williams recently eluded, other artists have not even come close to selling out 8 Wembley dates. The only 3 quibbles, and they are only quibbles, is that Orange does not perform any lead vocals. He has proved his singing metal during the previous tours, so it would have been nice to see more of him centre stage. Likewise, Donald oddly didn’t perform “Affirmation”, one of the key tracks from Progress, a great pity indeed. The 3-part format also comes across more as 2 warm up acts leading to the big event. Even though the reaction of the audience was positive, the TT4 and the Robbie Williams prequels did not allow them to adequately showcase their brilliance as distinct acts, so one wonders why did they not simply do the entire show as a 5-piece.
Many detractors will oft repeat the simplistic argument that “Williams did not need Take That” or “Take That did not need Williams”. They are missing the point. The reunion was essential, for their own sakes, to exorcise demons, right past wrongs and to be given the space to explore other musical avenues without the restrictions of the traditional Barlow, Owen, Williams or Take That sound. This show is the progression from cute smiley boy band, to a creditable and well respected man band. After the Circus tour, there was a sense that the Take That juggernaut was fast approaching the end of the road. Now with renewed vigour injected by Williams, Take That is a band once again full of ambition and drive. A band who set the benchmark for live performances in 2009 and then surpassed themselves in 2011. So yes, bringing back Williams was not only the right thing to do, it was vital. By the reaction of the audience, they seemed to agree.
Set list for Progress Live Tour 2011:
Part 1: TAKE THAT (without Williams)
Rule The World
Hold Up A Light
Part 2: ROBBIE WILLIAMS, solo section
Let Me Entertain You
Part 3: TAKE THAT
Kidz (includes segments from Rudebox and Apache 1993)
Medley (Million Love Songs/Babe/Everything Changes/Back For Good)
No Regrets/Relight My Fire