The remarkable ascent of Take That Phase Two, from forlorn Robbie-less has-beens to stadium-filling national treasures, looks like a downward slope once again. Now missing both Robbie Williams (again) and Jason Orange, for their first tour in four years the diminished trio have also retreated indoors to arenas – though 10 nights at the O2 is hardly the last chance saloon.
There’s a tarnish to the glitz this time too, with remaining members Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Gary Barlow having been accused of using a tax avoidance scheme before the release of last year’s III album. It’s my duty to remain cynical in light of such shenanigans, but when confronted with flocks of puppet doves, luminous jellyfish and a three-man flying bicycle, I have to admit that the magic won out.
Even without the vast elephants and robots that wowed the stadiums, no other music act presents a grand spectacle with such innocent joy. During the glam stomp of I Like It, there were so many umbrella-twirling extras that the singers were almost lost in the melee. Lights blazed all the way around the building, with even the wraparound digital advertising banners employed to worthwhile ends. A pocket of volunteer audience members at the back of the stage were given numerous duties, from basic dance routines to pretending to be an orchestra, and when the mobile phone lights came on during Rule the World, it felt as though everyone in the room had a role in creating something unforgettable.
The faithful don’t seem to have been repelled by controversy. The audience still looked like a giant hen do, though perhaps for a second marriage now. The band said little other than well-rehearsed jokes about stool use during Back for Good and the self-deprecating introduction: “We are what’s left of Take That.” But with the jets of fire, the wide sloping ramp like a melted Dali clock, the rain, the extraordinary spinning firework sun, they seemed to be saying: “Here’s where your money went.” Who wouldn’t want them to carry on doing this every few years, crushing negativity with pure pop wonder?
Until June 19, O2 Arena, SE10 (0844 824 4824, the02.co.uk)