Pop: Twist and shout: They came, they saw, they screamed - Mark Wareham on Take That at Wembley Arena

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The Independent Culture
There are hidden bonuses to being an undercover thirtysomething male teenybopper. You can have a carriage to yourself on the tube to Wembley (Take That fans come in cars - their parents') and in the gents you get a stretch of urinal all to yourself. But that's about it. No amount of planning - a thrash-metal speaker strapped to your ear at volume 11? - can prepare you for the aural onslaught ahead.

It started at eardrum-bleeding level as Kaos, a cutesie Jackson Five-meets-ABC outfit, took their 20-minute turn, and then it rose some. When you swooned to John, Paul, George and Ringo you were, at least, in your teens. Here, the screamers were pre-St Trinians: seven-year-olds with larynxes to waken entire graveyards. Ten thousand strong, they were just tuning up. It wasn't until Lulu took the stage that they even had anything to be excited about. Her three songs (no 'Shout', thank heavens) were incidental to her questions, each requiring a louder scream. 'Are there any Take That fans here?' she asked, perchance, as we were blown from our seats.

Then came the screamometer. As you clung to your partner, she set about conducting the Take That popularity test. Jason and Howard came equal last with a noise level that set your teeth on edge. Gary, perhaps suffering reaction to this week's 'I've got a small willy' Smash Hits shocker, was edged into third. And as the nuts and bolts that held the arena together started to fly, the reception for joint beefboys, Robbie and Mark, went off the scale.

The main event proved to be almost as entertaining. As the support band assumed their positions, five jack-booted Nazis in sunglasses and helmets rose from beneath the stage. Dynamite exploded left and right as teenie hearts detonated and Gary crooned, 'We're gonna make you feel so-oo-oo-oo good'. The opening spectacular settled into a mix of ballad and dance (backflips and, yes, breakdance) interspersed with hammy banter. Apart from 'Pray' and 'Relight My Fire' - their two slices of pure, pure pop - they could have been New Kids on the Block.

This, we were led to believe, would all change with the much vaunted raunch section. Reinventing yourself never did David Bowie any harm (he, too, had a helping hand from Lulu), but it helps if you rely on more than just headlines. Tabloid hype had dads banning kids from gigs on account of 'kinky leather bondage and devil worship', but it's not until the last song that they grow horns and Howard bares his marble bottom. Even then Gary's dance with Lulu is more waltz-with-mother than bump- and-grind.

'Sure', the new single, far from leading them over the satanic abyss, takes a step back to more soulful pastures, a sleep- written Take That-by-numbers. And rightly so, for first and foremost Take That is a business, not a group. It is a little-known fact that the company derives its name from its phenomenal sales of merchandise. 'I'll take that,' shout the girls in the scrum at the sales counter. 'And that, and that, and that.'

Given time, Take That must die, but if they take a cue from Menudo, Latin America's foremost teen idols, they may yet achieve immortality. As soon as any of Menudo look to be in danger of growing stubble they are replaced by younger hunks, ready for the next generation to fall in love with. They sing the same songs, dance the same moves and are, to all intents and purposes, eternal. So it's bye-bye Jason, Gary, Howard, Mark and Robbie, and Take That forever.

At Wembley Arena to 20 Sept (Booking: 081-900 1234)

(Photograph omitted)