Thursday 17 January 2013

Gary Barlow @ Hammersmith Apollo

With over 20 years of experience in the music industry, seeing Gary Barlow live is essentially a big sing-along.  He’s collected fans young and old along the way to becoming mother’s favourite, the Queen’s favourite and of course showered in underwear.

But there’s more to Barlow than this.  Behind the commercial success, the sex symbol and the X-Factor judge is an incredibly talented songwriter and performer.  There’s a reason Take That are Britain’s most successful boy band – Barlow’s songs.  The set-list of his live show consists of a Take That best of, in addition to his solo material from albums ‘Open Road’ and ‘Twelve Months, Eleven Days’, last year’s Sing (here without the Military Wives choir) and Candy (written for Robbie Williams) amongst others.  Every song is a memorable hit, each one a defining moment in a long career.  Some even had to be combined in a medley to make room in the set.  Barlow knows how to construct a great pop song – the euphoric choruses of Patience and Greatest Day especially.  His music is like a warm hug, putting a smile on your face and making you feel all fuzzy inside.

That’s not to say his music is formulaic or his performances tired.  Far from it.  Even without the boys Barlow is a consummate entertainer, singing in a softly crooning tenor that was particularly shown off in his renditions of Sinatra classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin and Van Morrison's Moondance – both sung to reflect his love of singing.  Yet he wasn’t always alone on stage.  His band (many of which he’s toured with for the majority of his career) were tight and dependable, whilst support act Nell Bryden joined him for a duet.  Her own material, performed earlier on, was an impassioned series of easy-listening songs before the main event.  James Corden made a surprise appearance, turning Pray into a duet complete with original dance routine (Barlow’s still got it – just).  And his generosity extended to allowing an on-stage proposal from a member of the audience to great shrieks and applause.  The only disappointment was a lack of female voice for the Relight My Fire middle eight.

What’s also notable about Barlow is his humility.  He’s not afraid to poke fun at himself, joking about the lower points in his career, displaying some (presumably embarrassing) old images during the encore of Never Forget and the tongue-in-cheek routine with Corden.  Barlow is a humble gent, grateful for his supportive fans and deserving of his success – proof that nice guys do come first.

Despite being in the minuscule male contingent of the audience, I’m not ashamed to say it was bloody brilliant.