The passage of time, and the cruel way it mocks us, ruled every moment of Take That’s performance in Tel Aviv Monday night.
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This was true even though both the audience members, most of whom were in their late 30s, and the band members (Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald) had gathered in the Yad Eliahu arena in an attempt to concoct a conspiracy: For one evening, they would rule over time together and subdue it, or at worst, ignore its existence. Unfortunately, their plan was predestined to fail.
“Finally Israel,” “At last here” and “25 years were worth the waiting” were just some of the English phrases that appeared on T-shirts and signs worn or carried by many among the thousands of fans (of whom the majority were clearly female), who had waited far too long to see the band that was their idol back when they were teens glued to the television screens of MTV Europe.
Being a boy band born as an erotic musical fantasy for both young women and young men, its performance was meant to be an actualization of that same fantasy — not just through the encounter with members of the British group, but primarily through the chance to crowd into a space which would send us back to the time when fantasy was still relevant and the world and time still belonged to us. The magic words that elicited huge roars of joy from the audience over and over were “Who wants to go back once again to the 90s?”
But from the moment Take That came onstage, the fear arose that little remained of that “that,” and not only because Robbie Williams quit the band shortly before it broke up in the 1990s (and later rejoining it briefly after it reunited). Is a boy band permitted to age? To have lined, wrinkled faces, whitish stubble and hoarse voices? Or is it even relevant to discuss an artist’s external appearance?
After all, the product in question was originally based on youth and beauty, on capturing a fleeting moment. Thus the audience was presumably seized by a faint dread when Mark Owen — just yesterday the beautiful boy in the crop top with the Johnson & Johnson logo who danced with an endless smile in the clip of the song “Everything Changes” — came onstage and proved that indeed, everything changes. Mon amie la Mark told me, I was baptized at dawn and flourished in daylight happy and loving, but in the evening, I am already old.
Nevertheless, Take That proved that even without the fantasy and even without the charm of youth, it deserves to exist — and that’s an understatement. The band’s three members sang superbly throughout the performance, and they never used playback. They were full of energy and managed to create a warm, intimate connection with the audience.
The material they’ve produced over the last decade, which has brought them great commercial success, is better suited to their vocal ranges and their current ages, even if it doesn’t always manage to create a clear identity for the band. Their best numbers, judging by audience reactions as well, were their famous versions of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic,” the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” and Dan Hartman’s “Relight My Fire.”
Owen, who in the past did little singing compared to Barlow or Williams, was amazing in most of the songs, displaying a mature and intriguing voice. His current incarnation is actually far more charming and interesting than the seductive, vivacious young man he played in the past.
Barlow managed to maintain the same slightly distant yet embracing expression, which succeeded in focusing attention on him, while Howard Donald, who in the past functioned mainly as a dancer, was to a large extent the star of the evening. He managed to preserve something of Take That’s indefinable appeal in the songs he sang, especially thanks to his dancing, and sometimes it seemed as if we were once again watching clips of the band that was created to make hearts throb.
And for a few moments —beyond the smoke, the spotlights and the exceptionally enthusiastic audience, and thanks largely to the lively choreography — the sound of the three singers made it seem as if we’d been granted the privilege of seeing Take That at its peak. As if they were still what they once were. And as if we were still a group of screaming teenagers.
Take That proved that even without the fantasy and even without the charm of youth, it deserves to exist