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Review: Gary Barlow, Sunderland Empire

Gary Barlow solo tour 2018
Gary Barlow solo tour 2018

Last time Gary Barlow played Sunderland it was to more than 50,000 at the Stadium of Light.

Fast forward seven years, and he may be back, minus the Take That lads, and playing to a crowd of 2,000 at the Empire - but the show was no less entertaining.

Tonight’s show, his first of two sold-out nights at the theatre, is part of his solo tour of intimate venues and is a chance for fans to truly appreciate his level of musicianship up close.

The theatrics of a Take That gig, which have included everything from a 70ft robot man to a mechanical elephant over the years, may have been missing but the magic of Gary’s music was more than present.

By the second song, a joyful Greatest Day, we had shimmering ticker tape raining down on a mostly female crowd. “Lads, you’ll never queue for the toilets at one of my gigs”, Gary joked in one of his many segments of crowd interaction.

The palpable levels of excitement from a Take That crowd were also correct and present. Never more so than when Gary plucked one of the waving hopefuls from the stalls to join him on stage and be serenaded by A Million Love Songs.

A lady called Sasha was the chosen one and she lapped it up, joining Gary on the piano stool, bear hugging him and taking selfies.

It wasn’t the only Take That song to get an outing. Backed by an impressive 10-piece band, the prolific songwriter took the audience on a real trip down memory lane, from a cabaret version of Do What You Like (sadly, minus the jelly) to the unmistakable dance moves of Pray (though that’s got to be tougher on his knees than it used to be) and a swing version of Sure.

He even dipped his toe into his theatre career with tracks from Neverland and Calendar Girls.

It was those big arena numbers that the fans really wanted to hear though and the charismatic frontman didn’t disappoint with a flaming good rendition of Relight My Fire, an anthemic Rule the World and a rousing finale of Never Forget that had everyone doing the dance moves - even the blokes.

Could Gary be magic without the other lads? You bet your bottom dollar he can.