So begins the start of Robbie’s 'pop star' comeback trail…
Would we now get to see the real Robbie Williams? You remember him, the confident showman. I know it’s hard to recall that guy. You may only be able to think of the insecure singer, full of self-doubt, making awkward appearances on X-Factor, singing songs he didn’t like…
We nearly didn’t get to see him at all after some mix ups with the ticket ballot (yes Ticketmaster we are looking at you…again). Luckily I managed to get my mitts on some through the second chance window. The wife was delighted…and alright yes so was I. Not so Robbie’s wife. With Ayda due to give birth any day she was said not to be happy with the timing of the concerts and Robbie could have been forgiven for having his mind elsewhere. As it was he was fully in the zone and loving it.
By getting there early we managed to get a good position. I counted six rows from the front…which was great of course…but never, ever have I felt as self-conscious as I did here. I was part of the mere 5% of males in the audience which was bad enough but I stood out like a sore thumb not just because of my gender. My 6 foot 1 inch frame isn’t normally tall enough to feel self-conscious about but tonight I was actually being used as a meeting point. I seemed to tower above everyone, a good foot taller above all those around me. I now know how Stephen Merchant feels. To top it off a girl behind me asked to go in front of me so she could see Robbie. Well she could have got there a bit earlier or moved somewhere else. No? Anyway I told her to go elsewhere…she wasn’t happy. What would you have done? Oh and while I’m on the female subject, a few questions for you girls:
- Handbags. Why bring a handbag to a gig if you are standing? I’m not talking small clutch bags here either but full on huge bags…they get in the way ladies
- Stilettoes. Why wear stilettoes? Do you think you are going to get off with Robbie or something?
Anyway back to the gig. Ok so Robbie is not everyone’s cup of tea. I understand his personality can grate with some. For me though he is just a Northern bloke who has made the most of his talents. That wasn’t always the case of course; I didn’t take him or his band mates very seriously in 1991 when they were all over Smash Hits wearing next to nothing (why the hell was I buying Smash Hits I hear you say, well I bought everything in those days…Q, Kerrang, Raw Power, NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Number One! and yes Smash Hits). Upon hearing Let Me Entertain You in 1997 though that all changed and it is that song that opens the gig tonight (after the apt Phoenix From The Flames intro). I adore that song. It is Robbie at his best, in full Freddie Mercury, flamboyant, ‘Look At Me’ mode. It is what he is greatest at and it doesn’t disappoint here. The crowd is bouncing from the off.
For this gig there is no major production, no big lights, no video screens and no fireworks. Many artists wouldn’t be able to cope without the safety net those things bring. Not so Robbie. This is a bare bones show (for UNICEF don’t forget) but we get the hits, the big songs and they are sung fully, powerfully and confidently. Two of the best are Hot Fudge and Monsoon, album tracks from the Escapology album. Both have the crowd joining in in full force. Other highlights are more obvious; Feel, which gives me chills and the 10,000 or so in the arena tonight sing it back in full voice, as we do with Angels, even though we have all heard it far too many times and have probably attempted it on Karaoke on at least one drunken occasion (for me Livin’ On A Prayer is still my song of choice). Rock DJ with a snippet of Freedom has us dancing. Old Before I Die, Lazy Days and Life Thru A Lens are from another time but are all highly enjoyable. Come Undone is immense. Kids finishes the main set and is quite superb. Only two new songs are played, the infectious Candy, a pop song that will be played endlessly on the radio (by the way check out this pretty fantastic cover version of it) and closing track Losers. It’s quite possible both songs are going to be huge.
In truth he could have sung anything because tonight is all about the man. Backed by a great band including two impressive female singers Robbie is on great form all night. He is obviously proud of himself for being in great shape (any tips on getting rid of a beer belly would be greatly appreciated Rob) and he is full of swagger and bravado. The nervous days of a few years ago seem a distant memory. Whether that is down to love, fatherhood, drugs (the legal kind) or all three, I don’t know.
The ability to have an audience in the palm of your hands is nothing to be taken lightly. Many have tried and many have failed. In truth the art of being a front man seems to be dying away. Forgetting those bands that have been around for twenty years or more where are the new great lead singers? Robbie doesn’t have the greatest voice, he doesn’t have the cool factor and the critics hate him. Yet for me he is one of the best around at commanding a stage and keeping an audience in his hands and that is why I will continue to go to his gigs and come away feeling enlivened.
He has said that he was not fully into his last few albums. For me I thought there were some great tunes on Reality and Rudebox however yes there was some dross as well. Well if this gig is anything to go by the new album should be a real return to form. Whatever his future plans it is great to see he has his Mojo back.
Welcome back Rob.
Ticket: September 14th 2012
Ticket Price: €43.95