IoS pop review: Gary Barlow, St John at Hackney, London
Robbie Williams, 02, London

The former boy band mates serve up contrasting solo shows but both leave you acknowledging some great songs ... through gritted treeth

They may have been each other's bitter nemeses for over a decade, but Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams are a classic cop-show duo: the square rule-follower and the loose-cannon clown who, between them, somehow get things done.

Barlow is the straight-laced Cameronista who's just been to the Palace to receive his OBN, Williams the cartoon bad boy who partied so hard for a few years either side of the Millennium that he's not even allowed to sniff the hard stuff any more. And, with Take That's reunion done and dusted for now, they're both in solo action once more.

Gary Barlow, the establishment man, turns up to Mencap's Little Noise sessions in a bank clerk's suit and back-to-school shoes, looking for all the world like he was dressed by his mum. A conservative cheesemeister to the core, the real-life Phoenix Nights turn who made the big time, he's happiest when sat at the BabyBel ... sorry, baby grand. Even his piano freakout is punctiliously precise, more courtroom stenographer than Jerry Lee Lewis.

Weirdly, given that he wrote these songs and must have sung them thousands of times, he uses an autocue as he runs through a sequence of segued ballads which, in a gag for X Factor viewers, he describes as "a medley, not a mash-up". He's clearly got a bee in his bonnet about recent eliminations – and survivals – on that TV show. The echo on the mic, reminiscent of the Tannoy at a 1950s Butlin's swimming pool, may make him almost incomprehensible, but there's no mistaking his description of Essex costume-horse Rylan Clark as "absolute shite".

It's another X Factor contestant, however, who comes to mind as Barlow stands up to tackle "Candy", the recent No 1 he penned for Williams. Collagen Westwood, harshly thrown out for having a sip of Jack Daniels before her sing-off, delivered the offhand put-down "it's not as if Gary Barlow is the Holy Grail of singing anyway". Judging by his wavering attempts to reach the high notes, Collagen was bang on the money.

What he can do, to everyone's astonishment, is dance. Showing impressive flexibility for a man of 41, and a self-aware sense of humour that's completely out of character, he breaks off between each verse of "Pray" to execute the full Nineties choreography, complete with semi-splits.

The congregation at St John's, one of their number bearing a "Sorry God, We Worship Gary" sign, lap it up. And there comes a point – whether during "Patience", or "Back For Good", or "Greatest Day" – when even a Barlow-sceptic has to acknowledge that, my God, that boring bastard can write a song.

No royal honours for Robbie Williams. As if to highlight the contrast between Barlow's encounters with the Queen and his own, he tells the 02 "She hasn't got a frigging clue who I am."

Robbie at the 02 inevitably involves more bells, whistles and whizzbangs than Barlow in a church: there are dangling LED signs, a massive hydraulic crown and mirrorball effigies of his own head. And also more (extr)overt showmanship. Making a boxer's entrance through the crowd in a black suit and Converse sneakers, he mounts the in-the-round stage, does a Mussolini strut around its perimeter, then we're straight into "Let Me Entertain You". From this moment on, Williams, seemingly lost for years in his offstage life (though not any more, to judge by a sentimental speech about his two-month-old daughter), is in his element.

The highlight of the greatest-hits, filmed-for-TV set is probably the berserk flaming church window in front of which, perched on a pulpit, Williams preaches the gospel of Take That. "In 1989, early 1990, a man in Worsley, Manchester, had an idea ..." Nigel Martyn-Smith's idea, Robbie deadpans, was to create a boy band who could be "as big as New Kids on the Block".

The asides and ad-libs are more fun than the music. "I've sung some songs that were lame ... (Personally I think that the album Rudebox was an underrated classic)/I've slept with girls on the game ... (Or, strictly speaking ... not on the game. Go on, Twitter that ...)"

Guy Chambers, Robbie's songwriter through most of the glory years, is brought on to accompany him on piano for a short stint. Later, as the entire arena echoes to "Angels" – an overplayed anthem whose greatness one has to acknowledge, even through gritted teeth – your mind wanders back to Chambers and, once again, you concede: my god, that guy can write songs too.

Critic's Choice

A double treat for horror-metal fans as Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie embark on their Twins of Evil tour at The O2, London (Mon); Manchester Arena (Tue); Glasgow SECC (Wed); and NIA, Birmingham Thu). The North Sea Scrolls give an alternate history of the British Isles at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge (tonight); and the Deaf Institute, Manchester (Mon).

Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable