Spinal Tap, Wembley Arena, London
Take That, Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester

Somehow a fictional band of metalheads can still attract tens of thousands almost 25 years later

There can't be a rock band anywhere who haven't had a copy of This Is Spinal Tap on the tour bus. Not only is Rob Reiner's tale of a gormless heavy metal act neck-and-neck with Airplane! as the funniest film ever made. It's also so uncannily true to life that, ever since its 1985 release, actual rock dinosaurs have been squabbling over who is the real-life inspiration.

A quarter of a century on, Spinal Tap have arguably been superseded by the likes of Anvil, Steel Panther and The Flight of the Conchords, whose tele-vision series is a painfully funny expression of what it's like to be in a struggling band now.

The problem with writing a review of Spinal Tap live, a document – or, if you will, rockument – of a concert by a band who don't actually exist, is whether to treat it as a gig or a fan convention. The danger is that, when stripped of the comedy context, you're simply left with a third-rate band, and not a lot of laughs.

Most of Wembley is here to worship the Tap just for being the Tap. Bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), brilliantly, looks exactly like Derek Smalls would in 2009: identical to his younger self, but with grey hair and 'tache, and leather slacks instead of skin-tight nutcrushers. Similarly, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), the preening axeman who shows his versatility by parping tunelessly on an Alpenhorn, is thicker set but rockin', with the same look he always had, and David St Hubbins (Michael McKean, left) is still giving it the full Parfitt.

They're assisted by keyboard player Caucasian Jerry Vanston, death-defying drummer Gregg Bissonette and a backing singer dressed like an Australian's nightmare, and on purely musical merits they're surprisingly proficient. Playing the riffs from "Sunshine of Your Love", "Daytripper" and "Jump" all at the same time is a neat trick if you can pull it off. On "Big Bottom", they're even joined by some proper musicians: ELP's Keith Emerson on keys, The Sweet's Andy Scott and Justin Hawkins from The Darkness on bass.

The set spans all eras, from The Thamesmen's faux-Fab Four "Cry All The Way Home" through the weedy psychedelic of "Listen to the Flower People" and cock-rock classics such as "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" right up to new tracks like the brilliant "Saucy Jack" and climate change number "Warmer Than Hell" ("Satan went to Surrey, sweating like a pig ..."). "We premiered that at Live Earth," says Smalls, "and in all modesty we have to say it worked. Two years on, the Earth is still here."

For all the humour in the lyrics, it's the dialogue that we're here for. Like David and Nigel reminiscing about their native district of Squatney: "The whole area's gone now ... there's just a giant poster for Jersey Boys."

The funniest moment clearly was not scripted. Just as it was in the film, the song "Stonehenge" is scuppered by a prop malfunction. This time, a giant trilithon fails to inflate, and has to be wrestled erect by a team of dancing dwarf druids. "We never did get that right, did we?" sighs St Hubbins. "Worth every cent of the £10,000 ..."

A sum which is dwarfed, if you'll pardon the pun, by what it must have cost to put on the current Take That tour. Before the man-band, whose phenomenally successful second career has entered uncharted territory for a revived act, have even appeared, we're entertained by old-fashioned clowns. Suddenly, the performers huddle in a cluster of helium balloons, release the ribbons, and there they are: the reassuringly homely Gary Barlow, the impish Mark Owen, and the two pieces of stubbled mature beefcake, Howard Donald and Jason Orange, whom no one can be bothered to tell apart.

Old Trafford erupts, and so does the outlying area. The estates all around the stadium have thrown impromptu street parties, with fans perched on walls and peering through gaps.

For the first half hour, Take That's Circus tour is about as feel-good as you can get. It's essentially Britain's biggest hen party, but when I spot a green-haired punk in a Rancid T-shirt going nuts to "Pray", I realise just how far the foursome's appeal has spread.

There's a slump when they seek to prove they're a "real" band who can play their instruments, but once they ditch that idea we're back on course. It's a show that tracks their musical development from the oiled-up gay disco of the Nineties ("Relight My Fire") to the stompalong pop of the Noughties ("Shine") via their one moment of towering greatness, "Back for Good".

What they've gained, since their hiatus, is a redeeming sense of their own ridiculousness, plus a licence for pure smut. "Go on, Jay," says Barlow, as Orange strips to his boxers. "Play your one-note skin flute ..."

The hands-in-the-air hosannas that greet the chorus of "Never Forget" come as a shock if you didn't know which song it was, and are almost as spectacular as the pyros that mimic musical notes in mid-air.

This is what's known as a home win. Robbie who?

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
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

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

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

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

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
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
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

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
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
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

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    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?