With his debut Dubai gig, Gary Barlow was back for good

The former Take That singer-songwriter has blossomed into an engaging and charismatic showman.

Gary Barlow performing at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on October 17, 2014. Sarah Dea / The National
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To fully appreciate one of life’s hard truths – that you can’t have it all – you need look no further than Gary Barlow.

The 43-year-old Brit is a hugely successful singer-songwriter and for the most part solely responsible for turning the British boy-band Take That into stadium-fillers.

But for all his melodic genius, he never really had the onstage personality to carry the songs off live. Hence the reason why Take That were so integral to Barlow’s career.

In the studio, he is the boss and comes up with the hits time after time. In concert, however, Barlow’s lack of showmanship is compensated for by the other lads – in particular the former member and solo star Robbie Williams – who keep selling the tickets.

Perhaps this was on Barlow’s mind when he was preparing for his first solo tour in 14 years, a United Kingdom and Ireland-dominated jaunt that ended up a little farther afield at a packed Media City ­Amphitheater yesterday.

It tuned out to be a slick and energised set, with Barlow holding the fans' attention seemingly through sheer force of will. Each song had its own visuals and there was a cracking nine-piece band, including a three-piece horn section – not to mention a set list that was split into swing, acoustic and solo sets. He even threw in a choir, courtesy of a fine guest slot from the Dubai College Chamber Choir, in the stirring Sing.

But despite all of that welcome effort, what really made Barlow’s performance an overall success was his new-found ease on stage.

There was an old-school Vegas charm about him as he delivered those big solo and Take That hits with aplomb.

Greatest Day was an early highlight, its towering chorus eliciting the first of many crowd singalongs.

Confirming that the rivalry with Williams is a friendly one, Barlow cheekily performed Robbie's 2012 hit Candy. After all, that Motown-ish number was co-written by ­Barlow.

Tracks from last year's Since I Saw You Last, were sprinkled throughout the set. The best of them was the dramatic ­Requiem, which moved from a Beach Boys-inspired choral opening before steadying into piano-led pop recalling Paul McCartney's Wings era.

That said, Barlow knew exactly what the fans really wanted: it was all about those Take That hits. While the full-band treatment of Back For Good, Relight My Fire and Rule the World were effective, it was in the lovely six-song solo set that Barlow's magic could best be ­appreciated.

Listening to Love Ain't Here Anymore, Said It All and Forever Love accompanied just by a piano, you realised why Take That are still the boy band it's OK to like. Unlike many of their peers, there is an honesty and craftsmanship to the songs.

Barlow may never have been the fan favourite, but he is perhaps the most respected. With 9,000 people in attendance in Dubai, that is a pretty good deal.