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TAKE THAT! AND THAT! AND THAT!
It was a night of mayhem, hysteria and high decibel screaming which left LIAM FAY psychologically, emotionally and aesthetically scarred. It was TAKE THAT’S Irish debut at The Point. This is his report from the front line.
Liam Fay, 01 Dec 1993
EEEEEEEEERRRGH! Another eight thousand shrill squeals of orgiastic delight and one more roadie gets a hard on.
For some of us here tonight in The Point Depot, this is the best part: those thirty odd minutes between the final note of D:REAM’s set and the moment when the main attraction first hit the boards. A whole half hour during which all is genuine anticipation, excitement and suspense.
The roadies wander with studied aimlessness back and forth across the stage while a captive harem of females shriek ecstatically at their every step. It’s an experience that would probably be enough to bring a lump to any man’s trousers but it’s presumably all the more erotic for guys who are forced to hump equipment for a living. Before the crew lose themselves too deeply in fantasy, however, it’s worth remembering that these girls are here to screech at anything that moves. It’s their job.
Don’t believe the hype, this whole Take That phenomenon has little to do with adolescent lust; it’s strictly playschool all the way. This is one of the youngest audiences I’ve ever seen at a pop concert. We’re talking ten, nine, eight-year-olds and downwards. Not so much teenyboppers as itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenyboppers. When they sing the obligatory Olé Olé Olé, it sounds like the Smurfs on helium.
Take That are the band that rocks the cradle. The tingle which most of their fans feel in the groin area is not arousal, it’s nappy rash. Just look over there at that father and his three daughters, each of them small enough to be held in his arms, all three of them scared witless to venture further than a footstep from the safe moorings of his legs.
At times, the noise of the collective screaming can be truly terrifying, a cacophony of high-pitched sirens from some full-lunged hell. Compared to this, the grindcore roar of death metal is a Brahms lullaby. But for this half hour at least, the Klaxon wailing seems strangely tolerable and adds to the rising crescendo of expectation.
With a slight clearing of his throat, the public address announcer kindly asks patrons to refrain from smoking and reminds young children that if they are lost they should make their way directly to the Abrakebabra stall (so that’s how they get their meat). Up in the stands, whole rows wave sticks of candyfloss in time to the pre-show songs pumping forth from the loudspeakers – Soul II Soul, Arrested Development – every chorus louder than its predecessor.
In the centre of the auditorium, a group of about ten girls start to kiss and hug each other. Some of them have tears in their eyes but they all appear to be laughing. Somewhere behind me, someone starts a countdown in the wrong direction and in Irish. A h-aon, a dó, a trí . . .
Without warning, the lights go down. The dry ice and strobe operators go apeshit. Then, to a Fanfare For The Common Man type prelude, a huge screen appears on which we’re shown images of planets, mountains, oceans and well, massive slow motion close-ups of the biggest shit-eating grins in showbusiness.
The screen ascends revealing a twenty foot tall clock which itself unpeels to expose – Pow! Kazaam! Boom! – Robbie, Howard, Jason, Mark and Gary. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it’s Take That!
And just when everything seemed to be going so well, too.
An Insidious Pop Crime
It is deemed somehow unsporting for adult rock hacks to criticise Take That. The theory is that they are merely the most recent in a long line of teen pop heart-throbs that goes right back to the 1950s.
“With pop,” wrote Nik Cohn in his classic book, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, “it’s all been down to mainline sexual fantasy. Sitting in concert halls, schoolgirls have screamed, rioted, brawled and fainted. They’ve wet themselves and they’ve masturbated. According to P.J. Proby, they’ve even ripped the legs off their chairs and mauled themselves. They’ve done all kinds of outrageous stuff that they’d never do anywhere else and they’ve been so uninhibited because there has been a safety belt, because the Pop singer himself has been unreachable, unreal, and nothing could actually happen.”
This, we are told, is Take That’s lineage. They are the latest slices of white bread to toast on the grill/altar of pubescent female desire. And, because they’re British (the real home of Pop), they’re especially good. One critic even described them as “the most important Manchester band since The Smiths,” (okay, so it was Julie Burchill, but she is far from the only commentator to salute Take That from the deck of the good ship, M.V. Hyperbole).
To all of which I say: Bollocks! Tonight in The Point, there is no sexual frenzy, no carnal inhibition. The girls are screaming because they are having a screaming festival, a sort of larynx gymkhana. They scream as intensely when Arrested Development’s ‘Everyday People’ is played on tape as they do when Take That do ‘Relight My Fire’ live. They scream as loudly at the candyfloss kiosk as they do at the stagefront.
You could argue that the lack of libidinous abandon has something to do with the high level of parental supervision (over a third of those present are accompanied by an elder) or the fact that so much of the crowd comprises what are essentially little more than toddlers, but the real explanation is that this show just does not incite that kind of salacious release.
Take That are guilty of an insidious pop crime, not exclusive to the ’90s but endemic to them. They have committed several aggravated counts of Grand Theft Auto Erotic. While no-one was watching, they have stolen many of the thrusts, shakes, struts and pouts of real masturbatory reveries from rock ’n’ roll’s past, but they’ve puréed them into safe, bland baby food.
Take That’s choreography is efficient in an identikit, join-the-dots sort of way but it is far too polite. There is a discernible Chippendale influence alright, but it’s the furniture makers, not the dancers. Most of their routines are extremely wooden.
Take That’s killer blow, their pièce de resistance and formula for instant girlie gratification is that, from time to time, they touch their own crotches! This, of course, is a direct steal from the erotic imagination of Michael Jackson, one of the most defiantly asexual and sterile live performers the world has ever seen.
Much has been made of Take That’s alleged appeal to gay men. A lot of this stems from the fact that the band’s manager, Nigel Martin-Smith, is himself openly homosexual. Formerly a part-time actor and music impresario, Martin-Smith was reputedly inspired to manufacture his own boy pop group after he encountered several unruly and rude members of New Kids On The Block in a London television studio.
He felt that there was a need for a “professional and positive” version of NKOTB, and as part of his strategy for world domination he decided to pitch his product towards both teenage girls and the male gay community. The “gay” element basically consists of a few vaguely homoerotic publicity shots and the occasional camp allusion on stage.
Judging by the composition of tonight’s audience, Irish gay men prefer to look at the pictures – they’ve stayed away in droves. And who can blame them? Take That should be seen and not heard. Speaking is not exactly their strong point.
“This song is called ‘Everything Changes’,” bleats Gary. “It’s the title track of our new album, Everything Changes. And it’s called ‘Everything Changes’.” Elsewhere, Robbie (“the funny one,” say the interviews) divests himself of such witty gems as “Jack Charlton did well” and “Our Irish eyes are smiling tonight.”
These guys couldn’t ad lib a fart after a feed of bean stew.
Questions about surface and substance
“They are very sex asshole,” says Mira from Naples. “Very sex asshole.”
You know those vintage 1950’s American documentaries in which some fat old guy with a notebook wanders up to a gang of teenage boys outside a Bill Haley concert and asks one of them, “So, young man, explain to me, what is the appeal of this rock ’n’ roll?” Well, tonight in The Point Depot, I am that fat old guy.
I’ve given up on the show itself and have decided to try and ascertain just what it is that the bona fide fans are getting out of this event. Investigative journalism under such conditions, however, is not easy. First, I’ve got to contend with the Bill Wyman Factor, or the Woody Allen Syndrome as it has more recently been defined.
At a concert like this, every time you make eye contact with any other person over four feet tall, you’ve got to convey, wordlessly and in a matter of milliseconds, the following information: I’ve got a legitimate reason to be here. I am not a pervert. I am a good person and, by the way, I think Take That are crap as well. If you fail to convince them of any of these facts, they’re going to start throwing you contemptuous looks and pointing you out to their friends, and, quite frankly, you’d be better off dead. The whole business is a terrible strain.
Then, there’s the girls themselves. Staggeringly, virtually all of them seem to prefer screaming their heads off or eating candyfloss to answering questions about surface and substance. One or two were prepared to go on the record, though.
“They’re gear,” says Jessica from Terenure.
“Robbie is a ride,” shouts her friend.
“Lisa and Fiona love Mark, put that down,” chorus Lisa and Fiona.
Later, I get chatting to Mira from Naples. Great, a continental perspective, I enthuse to myself, but it turns out that her English is as fluent as my Italian. Nevertheless, amid the bills and coos of our mutual pidgin, I do learn that Mira had never heard of Take That before she came to Ireland on an exchange programme last August. She likes ‘Pray’ and ‘It Only Takes A Minute’ and thinks that the band are “very sex asshole.” What she was saying, I assume, was successful but I wrote down sex asshole because it has a better ring to it.
Standard English pronunciation and my own personal sense of aesthetics are not the only casualties tonight, however. Throughout the evening, an unsteady stream of the injured, the faint and the overcome is ushered by St. John’s Ambulance personnel to the improvised sickbays and fresh air pens at either side of the stage. The more serious cases are stretchered outside to waiting ambulances (at 7.30, over an hour before Take That even come on, a driver tells me that he has already “loaded up two pallets” of kids with various forms of twists and sprains).
Towards the back of the throng, in just about every clearing, you can see small knots of girls attempting to get their wind back or clutching their arms or legs in pain, their faces smeared with looks of shock and tear-stains.
A degree of this is probably unavoidable given the size of the audience and the extreme youth, inexperience and high spirits of its constituents. I can’t help feeling, however, that more and better precautions might have been taken to avoid the severity of some of the crushes and accident blackspots. Individuals from BMG London and Take That’s management team went to considerable effort to stop press photographers from taking pictures of any distraught kids and indeed any crowd shots at all – the snappers were actually physically ushered out of the arena after only three songs. A little of this energy expended more constructively would’ve saved a lot of frightened young people a lot of needless distress.
Undoubtedly, some of those for whom this was the first ever experience of a pop concert will think long and hard before attending another. Yet one more reason why a Take That gig should carry a government health warning!
The Real horror Will Come Next Year
Everybody knows that Take That’s music is shamelessly and slavishly derivative. Tonight alone, I count at least six boiled down versions of ‘Midnight Hour’ in their set. Their soul is as fake as a fifteen pound note but that’s not the real problem.
The most strikingly irritating thing about them is the yawning chasm between what they – and others who should know better – claim that they are and the reality as exposed here in The Point Depot. Take That are a pantomime act, nothing more, and a pantomime act with the cheap trick of low cal raunchiness sewn into the lamé of their costumes.
If they even faintly tapped into what Nik Cohn calls the “mainline sexual fantasy” of pop, you can be sure that the mammies and daddies of Ireland would not be causing traffic snarl-ups all over the quays in their eagerness to bring their kids to the ball, as they were this evening. You could stick Maureen Potter in this show, stage it in the Gaiety from St. Stephen’s Day onwards and no-one would bat an eyelid. Oh, yes you could.
Even by the standards of recent pubescent idols, Take That mark a new low. Good grief, at least the risible Bros could write a song with the knowing title of ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ From these guys, we get “All I Do Each Night Is Pray.” Their closest antecedents are Wham! except with Take That you have five Andrew Ridgeleys instead of one.
The real horror, however, will come next year when someone decides to water down the Take That concept and repackage it for an even younger audience.
Like George Michael says, some mistakes were built to last.