Gary Barlow @ The Olympia on 7-1-13 (13)

Gary Barlow at The O2, Dublin on Monday 31st March 2014

It’s a wet Monday night in Dublin and Gary Barlow has stepped up from his Olympia Theatre performance last year to the big stage of The O2.

Full band and big production are on hand as they open up with  a confetti-covered mix of Since I Saw You Last, Greatest Day and Candy. The show hits its stride with Pray, full of Barlow bouncing around the stage with nimble toes to Take That’s original dance routine. A fan is brought up on stage to be subject to a swoon inducing rendition of A Million Love Songs as the lucky lady watched on the far side of the piano.

Support act Eliza Doolittle joins the stage for Shine and though this should have been a highlight within the show, her voice gets lost in the mix and the song only comes back to life when Barlow joins in. That, of course, is outside of Doolittle’s control.

A surprising rendition of Shame leads towards a swing section where Barlow reworks some of the Take That back catalogue into swing versions. A consummate performer, Barlow dances and plays to the crowd, leading them through the reworked versions including Everything Changes and Could It Be Magic.

Everything quietens down for the acoustic section, as the whole band comes forward with acoustic guitars and cajons, backing Gary as he takes the Take That heavy catalogue through its paces.  The crowd give Gary unwavering support, singing every word and spending most of the gig on their feet. Parts of the setlist are half or short versions of songs as Barlow tries to jam in as many fan favourites as possible into one show. It’s clear his fans mean a lot to him as he comes down from the stage and makes his way through the flat seating, shaking hands and working his way around the venue floor while being mobbed by excitable fans

Add in a touching addition of the Clontarf Community School Choir who Barlow accompanies on piano for a rendition of Sing. Barlow leaves the choir with the lead vocalist to sing alone, allowing them their moment in the spotlight. From here the show really picks up in pace and intensity. The Flood takes over the venue in all its pop glory, Elton John joins on screen for a strange collaboration of pre-recorded Elton with live Barlow singing Face to Face. There was something a bit strange and unnerving about tipping a salute and bow to a video record of Elton John.

Back For Good, Relight My Fire and Let Me Go are deafening as the crowd finds its feet and voice in thundering fashion to close out the show in a spectacular and pulsating finale.

Telling the crowd “Thank you, and I hope to see you all next year with Take That“, met with a raucous approval, Barlow closes the set with Rule The World as the crowd sing every word back to him. A two song encore closed out with the inevitable but brilliant sing-along that is Never Forget leaves Dublin fans covered in confetti as they exit the venue.

Barlow delivered a setlist of pop gold, as he is known to produce. The addition of 60% Take That songs, combined with Barlow’s fantastically engaging abilities as frontman, made for a fantastic show.

As a solo artist, he might not be quite there, but those Take That numbers are all him too, so we won’t quibble on talent. If we were to nitpick at the show, it would be that it was more a Take That show than Gary Barlow. The swing reworkings weren’t brilliant, but we tip the hat to him for not just playing all the Take That songs verbatim and giving them a new spin. That said, with both back-catalogues combined, three decades of pop hits produce a pop-party that few acts could put on.

* Photo from Gary Barlow at The Olympia Theatre in January 2013 by Owen Humphreys