Reflecting on When Take That Performed a Live Cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Topless
Maybe we were all wrong. Maybe the greatest frontman of the 90s wasn't Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder - but Gary Barlow.
Most people, for good reason, laud Kurt Cobain as the most influential musician, frontman and lyricist of the 90s. Others disagree and say it was Eddie Vedder. But to all of those people I would say: you have obviously not seen this video of Take That performing a live cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with actual instruments and their tops off. Because it very much proves that although Cobain and Vedder may still have the monopoly on songwriting, the greatest performer of the decade was, in fact, probably, Frodsham's very own Gary Barlow.
Picture this. The year is 1995, and you have just purchased tickets to Take That's Nobody Else Tour - their first tour after the departure of Robbie Williams - specifically, the date at Earl's Court. Obviously, the lads (Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald, and Jason Orange) boss through all the hits. You fist pump your way through "Everything Changes" and "Relight My Fire". You stomp the floor and flip your curtains side to side during "Could It Be Magic" – the single East 17 were robbed of, quite frankly. With tears in your eyes, your mum raises a lighter in the air on your behalf throughout the entirety of "Back For Good", because you are probably only 13-years-old. And, just when you think it's all over, they reappear with Jason Orange on drums, Howard Donald on guitar, Mark Owen on bass (I think - I might be wrong, all white men from the 90s look the same to me), and Gary Barlow in shiny leather trousers.
The year, I will remind you, is 1995. Less than twelve months after Kurt Cobain's death.
You have no idea what's about to happen. Howard does a quick line check on his guitar, then pulls a face that makes me feel physically ill every single time I watch it. That face above, right there, the face of your future nightmares. Mark shouts "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK AND ROLL!?" into a mic, and then it happens. The most insane cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ever recorded. A mean feat, considering it is one of the most over-covered songs in the history of music.
Gary Barlow rips his vest off with his bare hands and throws it into the crowd before he even gets to the first verse. He drags the mic stand around the stage in the same way determined drunk people attempt to pole dance at Oceana, and enters the chorus by singing: "When the night comes, entertain us!" Obviously, it goes without saying that neither Barlow's earnest croon nor mannerisms were designed to lend themselves to grunge with much authenticity. He looks more like Jason Van Der Beek doing an impression of Henry Rollins at a high school talent contest.
And that's just a tenth of what happens within the first 60 seconds. Jason Orange has dreadlocks, Mark Owen inexplicably drops to his knees at an off-peak point in the song to play the same bass line he's been playing the whole time, and Howard Donald is responsible for the most pathetic shred ever performed in a 20,000 capacity venue. It's absolutely stunning. So stunning that the more you watch it, the more it envelops you. At first, it's just like, "Oh there's Take That being the fucking worst again," but after about 10-15 watches, you start to realise that, actually, no, this is a work of art. Who else could have done this? I didn't see any other boybands picking up instruments in the 90s. Never before have four men come together in unison in the face of one, objectively terrible idea, and owned it in a way only they could have. A way that, mostly, involves ripping your shirt off, thrusting, and jabbing insipidly at instruments with clenched fists.
Watch it below, one hundred times, please.
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