by Marc Ridley
So last night, EQ ended up at London’s Wembley Stadium for the first of Take That’s eight mega-gigs at the world-famous venue during their Progress Live UK Tour. And not only were we there at one of the UK’s biggest ever live projects, we arrived in time to catch a glimpse of the Pet Shop Boys’ opening act, too. Due to the theatrical nature of the show it’s worth mentioning that there’ll be a few spoilers below – so if you’ve got your tickets and want to save the surprises for the night, you might want to wait before you read.
After the drama of a two-minute countdown by the 80,000-strong crowd, Take That’s entrance was perhaps more subdued than expected. At first, Robbie was missing, but the opening tracks “Rule the World” and “Greatest Day” were more than enough to kick off the show well.
Few people will ever get the chance to headline the national stadium, and the four boys were well aware of the honour they’d been presented with. In their opening speeches to the crowd – a heart-warming touch – Howard, Gary and Jason made it clear that they were chuffed to be there. Mark Owen, meanwhile, decided to mark the occasion with an impromptu but mostly successful stadium-wide rendition of the national anthem, a little inappropriately accompanied by his mobile ringtone.
With Owen’s hit, “Shine”, the theatre starts. Giant insects take to the stage, joined by white rabbits and dancing peacocks. Oh and a giant centipede. Smoking a pipe.
Whether it’s Alice in Wonderland or The Very Hungry Caterpillar we’re not sure, but it’s mad and we love it. Then, the costumes are gone and we’re taken through the rabbit hole (or at least the giant screen at the back of the stage), and so are the band, and all is quiet.
But then something quite amazing happens. It’s the biggest, boldest and most exciting entrance for a popstar EQ has ever seen: Robbie Williams is here, and he’s MASSIVE. We’re treated to four amazing hits, and the goosebumps that tingle at the introduction to “Let Me Entertain You” are enough to make us realise that this is almost a Knebworth moment. Actual balls of flame frame the stage, and we were planning to say they were bigger than Robbie’s ego, but then he shouts ‘I AM ROBBIE FUCKING WILLIAMS,’ so now we’re not so sure.
When the rest of the band return, suspended at the top of the stage, Robbie mellows, but the theatrics just get bigger. With “The Flood” we get exactly that (giant flood on the stage), and the band’s ambitious troupe of dancers get soaked whilst performing acrobatics which would make the Cirque du Soleil’s heads spin.
The awesome track “Kidz” brings the riot theme first shown off at the BRIT Awards to a whole new level, and breaks off into a surreal but crowd-thrilling “Rudebox” interlude, complete with Dad-at-a-wedding dancing from the Five.
The old tracks are there too, so prepare for a singalong. Barlow does what he does best at the piano, and EQ has to stifle a squeal when we’re even treated to a little bit of “Take That Party”.
The finale is nothing short of mind-blowing, and whilst it looks like it should all go wrong, the stage succeeds in defying the laws of physics and the results are incredible. We won’t spoil it if you’re yet to roll up at the tour, but the clips you’ve seen on the telly are just a fraction of what they manage to achieve on the night.
The Progess Live Tour is a feat of staging ambition and musical excellence, and you can’t help but share in the pride those five Manchester men are evidently feeling when they perform. They have decades of songs in their arsenal and eye-watering amounts of money to present them on stage and EQ can’t help thinking that we were just very lucky to witness it.
Very lucky indeed.