POP / Take That shock

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The Independent Culture
ANYONE who believes that a 13-year-old is too young for sex education should go to a Take That concert. The 8,000 schoolgirls in Glasgow's SECC on Thursday scream for Gary's piano playing. They scream for Jason and Howard's back flips. But a single pelvic gyration from either Robbie or Mark produces the scream de la scream. The young girls - there are hardly any young boys present - are truly, madly, deeply in lust with Take That, while their parents are ignorant enough to require this simple key: Robbie - big eyebrows; Mark - big smile; Gary - big-boned; Jason - big chin; Howard - the other one. Now that I have seen a close-up of Howard's G-strung bottom on two giant video screens I feel I know the band intimately enough to refer to them by their Christian names.

Take That could easily rely on Mark's boyish grin or Jason's manly brawn. (Oasis pretend to be Manchester's toughest five piece; Jason could take them all on.) But they stage a show that overflows with effort, energy, imagination, and above all respect for the audience. Every detail has been considered. The eight backing musicians are polished, the dancing superlative, and Gary Barlow's songs - especially the ballads - nearly worthy of the attention they have been given. Lennon and McCartney he ain't. Stock, Aitken and Waterman he may be.

Like the best children's TV presenters, Take That keep their banter just on the right side of patronising, although their scripts seem to have been written by Cannon and Ball: 'I tell you what, Gaz, I wouldn't mind having a rest. Do you know 'Why Can't I Wake Up With You'?' 'Do I know it, Rob? I wrote it]' Well, the youngsters were amused, bless their hearts.

Pyrotechnics flare, stages move, props and wardrobe keep changing. Of course, the Beatle suits and devil costumes have nothing on the fans' favourite, the black string vest and underpant combination. (Gary keeps his trousers on. Big- boned, you see.)

The staging of 'Babe' is an outstanding piece of theatre. Take That interact with projections behind them and walk through slits in the screen until live action merges with film. And if that weren't enough, Lulu appears for 'Relight My Fire'.

The evening is such a genuine attempt to give the fans the perfect show that it would be petty to nit-pick. Which is why I haven't mentioned the singing until now. Jason and Howard should stick to break dancing, and for most of the concert they do. Gary sounds weedy and distant, but Robbie has the beginnings of a good 'n' throaty soul voice. And anyway, you try holding a tune at the same time as you're zipping through some high-energy choreography.

Regular Take That concert- goers were more critical. Did the band have to pad out their own material with a Beatles medley? How successful was the segment featuring pre-teen Take That doppelgangers? As a Take That virgin, I arrived wondering whether they would be just another teen sensation, or whether they had metamorphosed into serious artists a la George Michael. The answer is neither. They are not just any teen sensation. They are the teen sensation. Snatch those Ivor Novello songwriting awards and Mercury Music Prize nominations back off them now. If Take That were to aim for the grown-up market it would be an incalculable loss to the schoolgirls of the world.

Glasgow SECC, 041-248 3000, tonight; Manchester G-Mex, 061- 832 9000, Tues-Thurs; Dublin The Point, 010-3531 6366777, Sat & Sun; and touring.