Take That – The Progress Tour, 31 May 2011

take that progress tour liveSunderland – Stadium of Light

The Spaceman went to see Take That in Sunderland on Tuesday 31 May on the final leg of their North East section of the Progress tour.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 6 months, this tour has been hitting the headlines for the following three reasons :

1) Well, it is Take That and they always do.

2) Robbie Williams has came back in from the cold.

3) The tickets went like Mark Owen on top of an under age fan whilst internet and phone lines went into meltdown.

The gig was held in Sunderland’s – Stadium of Light (or shite) Football Ground, depending on whether you ask a Mackem or a Newcastle fan. We arrived by coach many hours early as roads were shut and bound by traffic.

Supporting act were the Pet Shop Boys, who hit the stage at 6.30 and strangely did little to warm the crowd up spouting out a succession of their nasally hits, which seemed to blend from one directly into another. A brief wave of excitement was raised with “West End Girls” but otherwise to me, seemed a strange choice of Support act.

Take That hit the stage around 8pm and performed Robbie-less as they played all of their noteworthy hits from the last three albums since reforming as a man band. Highlights included : “Patience”, “Shine” and “Greatest day”.

Next, Robbie burst onto the stage to the strains of “Let Me Entertain you” to do a solo set whilst the others went for a break.

Robbie blasted through a set including all of his best known hits and seemed to be relaxed and enjoying his solo outing, more like his old self. This was good to see after his paranoid, spaced out, sweaty, eye popping turn on X Factor.

Whether you like Williams or not, he is a born showman and had the crowd eating from his hand.

Which is where I thought some of the problem with the concert was, in the pacing of the sets. After Williams set ended, he was finally joined on stage by his counterparts and they sang numbers from their current album Progress, to a slightly muted reception from the crowd.

Now, opinions are divided on Progress and to whether it is a good album or not. As a concept album, it hits the mark in terms of acclaim as it is different to any previous TT album. Personally though, I don’t think it is fit to shine their boots – bar two or three numbers. On the night the song’s sounded accomplished yet slightly pedestrian.

Which meant all of Robbie’s good work whipping up the crowd was lost in the middle half by pedestrian songs such as “The Flood”, “SOS” and “Kidz”. These aren’t bad songs by any means, but a quick scan around the crowd showed the mood had dropped and the heads weren’t bobbing quite as much.

When it eventually got to the final part of the concert, the boys managed to bring it round again with their old familiar hits including, “Million Love Songs”, “Back For Good” and “Never Forget”.

After a small hiatus, the boys came back on for an encore and did a medley of Williams hit “No Regret’s” and group hit “Relight My Fire”. Finishing with “8 letters” an upbeat number from Progress.

Now having watched the Circus tour on TV, I was expecting a bit more from the Progress set itself. Bar the usual fair of jugglers and dancers they had a huge mechanical man, something akin to the Whicker man crossed with the Iron Giant which stood up near the end and jerked and moved around to the music. A nice acrobat section with performers dangling from ropes was the best set piece by far as they came together, mimicking the logo from the album cover which was a nice touch.

Apart from that, they didn’t come close to “The Circus” set piece’s. Maybe it was more a sign of the times with everybody being so poor and depressed, that the show seemed more about the singers and the songs than too many expensive gimmicks.

Overall though, Robbie being back with Take That is a mixed affair, he gives them an edge and an unpredictability that they lacked as a four piece and provides a nice change when he performs his own material.

Also, when the old material is played he slots back in quite nicely performing all of his own parts. But, it does feel like he encroaches the other boys recent successes a bit too much and he seems to be too much all over the new material relegating Gary Barlow to not much singing, also some of it sounds a lot like a reworkings of previous Williams hit.

That said though, it was still pretty amazing and even on a bad night Take That wipe the floor with most acts, there was still something for everyone to take away from it, long time fan or curious spectator.