Gary Barlow performs his Since I Saw You Last Tour at The Capital FM Arena Nottingham on Thursday 17th April 2014.
Having forgotten my wedding anniversary last October, my punishment was to accompany my wife to the Gary Barlow concert at The Capital FM Arena. But surprisingly enough, at the end of the evening it hadn’t been such a terrible penance. Right on time at 8.30pm, the lights went out. The audience which was surprisingly mixed screamed at such levels that the roof of the Arena was in danger of being lifted off.
After 25 years in the music business, there can be no argument that Barlow knows how to put on a show. This production, being his first solo Arena tour, started with a dramatic opening montage, taking the crowd through a virtual time line from the past (the Take That days) to the present (the Gary Barlow days), which the fans absolutely loved. As the calendar flicker quickly approached 2014, the crowd became louder and louder, and then boom, he appeared.
Quite fittingly to the tour name, Barlow came out all guns blazing and performed his smash hit single, Since I Saw You Last, much to the crowds delight. He even had the confetti canon going on the first few songs which looked amazing and there was enough of it in the air to act as radar deflection for the two hours duration.
Proclaiming that he hoped that there was something in his show for everyone, we had only reached the second song of the set before we were given a Take That song; Greatest Day. Without doubt he led his nine piece band from the front, alternatively hammering at a piano or dashing energetically around the stage, microphone in one hand; the other reaching out to his audience.
There is a hammy shamelessness in Barlow’s desire to entertain. He romps unapologetically through Candy; a song he had a hand in writing, but which was actually a solo hit for his former nemesis, band mate and rival Robbie Williams, a performer whose natural charisma and eccentric pop spirit has a tendency to cast a shadow over everything the more effortful Barlow had achieved.
But this was definitely Gary Barlow’s night. What was unique about the show was the mixture of so many musical genres. Barlow and his band switched between stripped back acoustic sessions, intimate power ballads and a fantastic big brass swing set, something which was really unexpected.
After Requiem, the next highlight was just around the corner. Pray was not only a highlight because it was the first Take That song to go to number one in the charts, no, but especially because Barlow still does the old dance routine. Now we all know that he is not the best dancer, but it is clear that he has been practicing, and this little bit of dad dancing went down well with this audience.
One female fan was then picked out of the audience as he serenaded her from his piano. Performing A Million Love Songs to her as she gazed into his eyes, took a few selfies and bowed down to Max, the brilliant guy on the sax. He was joined on stage by the lovely Eliza Doolittle for Shine, before briefly going off-piste with Lie To Me from his second album. This number felt like a glimpse from another timeline, one where slinkiness displace his current song writing mode of stridency and swell.
Next came the absolutely delightful acoustic session. Bringing all of his band to the front of the stage, he covered the Bee Gee’s How Deep Is Your Love, followed by Part Of Shame and finishing with So Help Me Girl.
Moving swiftly into his swing session, it was Take That’s Sure and Everything Changes that were given the swing treatment. Covering Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic, Barlow came across as dapper, self-depreciating and approachably handsome; a more jubilee compatible Buble. It was really fun to watch and great to listen too.
Time flowed by and there were the first signs that this show was coming to an end with for me the best part of the show. Making his way to the ‘B’ stage which was located towards the rear of the Arena and on which there was just a piano, he had to make his way through a bunch of crazy women wanting to hold him and kiss him. It’s clear that it is a hard life being Gary Barlow! Once at the stage he gave us a medley of the most beautiful ballads. There were the Take That hits; Nobody Else, Said It All, The Garden and the sublime, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. The Arena was almost silent for Barlow’s own penned Dying Inside and Forever Love.
This was a particularly breath-taking part of the show. Above this little stage was a chandelier like lighting rig which was extremely effective; producing stunning effects.
Back on the main stage he handed it over to the Minster Choir for a rendition of the Diamond Jubilee song, Shine. There was a video duet with Elton John for the dual piano stomp of Face To Face and when the first rain drops appeared on the screens, every Take That fan knew what was about to come; Back For Good.
Relight My Fire was every bit as energetic as the original, as was Let Me Go. Announcing the ‘last song’, Rule The World, Barlow added with a grin that if the audience clapped loud enough, he might just come back on to sing another song.
There was only one song that Barlow could have chosen to close the show, and my word the reception was amazing. The whole Arena; men, women and children all screamed and waved their arms in the air, almost perfectly in synch to Never Forget. For all his legions of fans, it was a great moment.
This concert was top class, supershiny, ultra bright, dazzlingly colourful and gleamingly polished and an astutely conceived cross between the slick variety show staging of his Saturday Night TV stints on the X Factor and the special effects of a contemporary rock extravagancer. Dry ice, lasers and startling light beams interacted with giant wrap around video screens to make this an unforgettable night.
But for me Barlow is a bit of an enigma; after six albums with Take That and four solo, he still doesn’t have his own identity as a singer songwriter. The highly likeable Gary Barlow, a six time recipient of the Ivor Novello Award, clearly isn’t a chump when it comes to writing memorable pop songs. The fatal flaw, it seems to me, is presiding over a show that wants to be everything to everybody.
Barlow’s ability to adhere to the middle of the road deserves recognition from the Department of Transport.