ROCK / Give and Take as teeny hearts throb again

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The Independent Culture
AS YOU approach Wembley in the middle of Take That's triumphant three-night residency, the unearthly sound of the true teenage scream spills out on to the parent-filled side-streets. A thousand starlings in a box, a symphony of car alarms, this is not something you hear every day. Inside the Arena, the five young Northern soulboys on stage are feeling it as much as anybody. It is an awesome display of female power, and Take That, for all their cocksure cheek, are suitably humble in its embrace.

There is something touching about the way they support each other through what must be a frightening ordeal. They have pooled their talents: Mark and Robbie were born stars; Gary - the solid, fatherly one who writes the songs - has taught hoofers Howard and Jason to sing, and they have helped him with his dancing. And all the hard work has paid off, as there is hardly a missed step or bum note in the whole 100-minute show.

The music - the very adjacent harmonies on the current No 1 'Pray', that sublime revamp of Barry Manilow's 'Could it be Magic?' - survives the screaming well. But showmanship is what tonight is all about: the costume changes lingered over behind a white screen, the final reappearance with TAKE THAT spelt out across their buttocks.

The tone is explicitly sexual - goateed Jason's goatish hip- thrusts, banners proclaiming 'Rob and How, give us it now'. Does this make them any less innocent? I don't think so. Crayoned faces crumple with wonderment at the show's high points, as when Howard does a back-flip so spectacular that those at the front can see not only the full extent of his manhood, but also what he had for dinner.

The only worry is that no real- life male will live up to these standards of charm, athleticism and sensitivity. Take That songs are all about giving satisfaction, not getting it. 'Give Good Feeling' is illustrated by individual demonstrations of the group's love-making technique. Mark - the cute one with the House of Eliott haircut - produces a towel. Would anyone like to rub him down? The crowd answers with a cautious affirmative. Mark drives them crazy by doing the job himself.

The only person not amused by this is a sour-faced steward with her back to the stage. By special dispensation of natural justice, it is on her head that the towel lands when Mark throws it into the crowd, having rubbed it languidly up and down his body. The non-believer is momentarily submerged beneath a whirling scrum of pubescent piranhas, but comes up smiling.

Next to the full majesty of an authentic teen phenomenon in its mature phase, the opening night of Prince's annual visit falls flat. Birmingham's National Indoor Arena is a venue better suited to sport than music. And the fact that, for the first 40 minutes at least, someone forgets to turn on the great man's microphone doesn't help. The drums echo flatly off the back wall and jewels such as 'Kiss' and 'Raspberry Beret' are lost in the sludge. The Diamonds & Pearls tour's excellent backing singers have gone, as has the flying bedstead, the amusing banter and (perhaps not so lamented) rapper Tony M. Even the spaceship lighting-rig no longer moves. The trapeze which whisks Prince's dancer and bridge partner, Mayte, across the arena at the start provides the only moment of spectacle.

After a (by his standards) short set, Prince returns with a clutch of new numbers, with titles such as 'Come' and 'Peach', and a succession of alarming pronouncements. 'My name is not Victor, but I am victorious . . .' He may or may not be planning to hang up his cod-piece for good, but on this evidence he could certainly do with a nice long rest.

Company Week is an annual celebration of improvised music run by veteran free-form guitar wizard Derek Bailey. At the Place in Euston, combinations of musicians take to the stage and see what they make of each other. For trumpeter Andy Diagram, anything must be a relief after playing with James. New York clarinet giant Don Byron is there, but the star of the show is Phil Minton - the Percy Edwards of the avant-garde - who uses his voice to make a noise like a seagull regurgitating food for its young. Now that's what I call music.

Prince: Sheffield Arena (0742 565656) tonight & tomorrow; Wembley Arena (081-900 1234) 7 Sept. Take That: benefit for Childline, Wembley Arena, 14 Aug.

Allison Pearson, teenybopper, p 19

(Photograph omitted)