Review: Take That’s nostalgic show a hit with Dubai audience

Take That have performed the unprecedented feat of being a boyband who genuinely grew into a man-band. And for that they deserve some respect.

Take That performing at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday. Ravindranath K / The National
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Last October, Gary Barlow promised a UAE audience he would be back with his band Take That. Just 12 months later, on Friday (October 30) he came good on the pledge, with “what’s left” of the vintage boy-band – three of five founding members – returning to the same Dubai Media City stage.

On paper, Take That are the ideal acts to perform to Dubai’s huge British expat audience. It’s a crowd who adores nostalgia, and TT’s mid-90s heyday will be familiar to any member of the affluent 30-and-over crowd. Plus, Dubai expats are likely to have a notably more relaxed view to the tax avoidance strategies the band have been roasted for in the press for at home.

But remarkably, Take That have moved on. It’s hard to imagine any band who would choose not to perform nine of their 15 1990s UK chart hits. Who would ignore three number one singles. But this is what Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald did, performing a polished set which tantalised with just enough vintage material, amid a predominance of tracks drawn from the four records released since the band’s 2006 reunion.

There's a whiff of 1980s stadium rock to this newer material, in its live incarnation at least, with three guitarists in this six-piece band. Kicking off with 2006's chart topper Shine – a track normally reserved to open their encore – Owen channeled his inner Freddie Mercury. Hands were already in the air for the Hey Jude-aping outro, and many remained there for the call and response of Greatest Day.

Notably there was none of the lavish production of the tour’s UK dates – an underwater spectacle which included 18 dancers, aerialists, giant seabirds and a flying trike.

An early high came with Patience, the folksy sing-song which singled the group's return, and new mature direction. But it was almost with relief that the audience embraced mid-set early-1990s surprises Pray and Barry Manilow cover Could It Be Magic – both performed with a tongue-in-cheek wink at the vintage dance moves.

Following Jason Orange’s shock departure last year, the band was strutting as a threesome. Was something missing? Less than you might think.

There was certainly a great effort at stage-filling amicability, the remaining trio parading the boards with camp charm and humble affability. Dressed in a flowing patterned shirt, and sporting Brett Anderson hair, Owen gets to play guitar on a few numbers. Looking like he’s just emerged from bed, Donald smashes at a cymbal with schoolboy abandon. Barlow holds it together in a plain black ensemble, and there’s lots of palm-slapping bromance on display.

After an "X-Factor bit" where each member performs a solo song, Barlow sat at the piano, flanked by Owen and Donald on crooner stalls, for brief stripped-back cabaret teasers of vintage hits A Million Love Songs and Babe. They stay seated for the band's most timeless tune, Back For Good – it's not quite Wonderwall, but it's not hard to imagine this sublime piece of pop songwriting sung on stages by other faces decades from now.

Following a beefier, rockier take on new single These Days comes an old-new-old finale of Relight My Fire, Rule the World and Never Forget.

The trio never left the stage for the traditional theatre of encore, and after the lights went up much of the 10,000-strong crowd hung on hopefully for more. But after precisely 90 box-ticking, contract-filling minutes, the day was done.

It’s only natural to compare the evening to departed bandmate Robbie Williams’s bizarre Yas Island set six months ago, which came complete with nine cover songs, much egocentric posturing – and a skirt.

But where Williams’s stage schtick has aged badly, Take That have grown up. They remain warm and fuzzy, rather than edgy and provocative. And crucially, they’ve kept scoring hits. Of the nine number ones performed in Dubai, four have come in the past decade.

Take That have performed the unprecedented feat of being a boyband who genuinely grew into a man-band. And for that they deserve some respect.