Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams

It’s 8.35pm on a Thursday night and any second now, that legendary larrikin with the largest ego in show business, Robbie Williams, will take the stage for the first of his three shows at Rod Laver Arena. It was only about this time last year since he last wowed Melbourne with his Swing Tour – a rewarding night out that was raved about long after the tour had finished... so tonight's show has a lot to live up to... a fact not lost on most of the girls around us. You could almost call it a 'Girls night out’ – as they have all passed on staying in to watch the final of ‘The Bachelorette’ so they can be here for Robbie. Flocking here in droves, they outnumber the guys 100 to one and all of them are keyed up for a great night out – not least the breathless female sitting next to me. She’s obviously a very enthusiastic fan. In fact, it appears she and her partner are almost equally as excited about the bunch of empty seats in front of us, that, for the moment, are affording us a completely unobstructed view of the full stage.

Robbie’s LMEY ('Let Me Entertain You’) Tour for 2015 has obviously invested big money in an impressive staging setup – one that borrows heavily from the savvy U2 'Vertigo' era design. There’s the familiar circular catwalk encasing all of Robbie's most ardent fans, right where they most want to ground zero. The pre-show warmup music is certainly hitting the right spot and all the shoulders in the floor section are popping in anticipation. Punters are PUMPED!

Robbie Williams

The lights go down to a thundering ‘Carmina’ which effectively drives the already excited crowd into a frenzy. Tension builds almost to breaking point. As I listen to the crescendo’s refrain, I could almost swear the classic been tweaked by Robbie’s production crew to sound like the choir are actually singing “Robbie, Robbie-Robbie...Robbie, Robbie-Robbie…”

Static appears on a behemoth of a screen that completely dominates the entire width of the stage. The visual static then gives way to kitschy computer type…keystrokes begin to spell out a message… MELBOURNE?… AM I STILL YOUR SON?… THEN… LET… ME… ENTERTAIN …YOU!

Robbie Williams

The massive three story screen now ignites with James Bond style graphics – featuring that unmistakable silhouette. A strutting, confident and whole-heartedly cocky Robbie Williams. The silhouette raises his hands upwards, imploring the crowd's cheers. They respond in kind. Multiple red arc lights manically strobe the stage as about a dozen musicians take their places in the half light, then bang….! The piano chords of ‘Let Me Entertain You’ ring out and massive sparkling ROBBIE letters appear to levitate skywards from behind the stage – signalling the man is well and truly in the house. There are so many musicians moving around it is almost impossible to see Robbie make his entrance but all at once my eye is drawn to a flash of white light and smoke center stage – and there he is. Resplendent in all black with a pair of shades and all the attitude you would expect. It’s a hell banger of a tune to kick off proceedings and gets the desired reaction. The crowd are singing at the top of their lungs but Robbie still taunts, “I can’t fucken heaaaar you, Melbourne!” Everyone is encouraged to get up and dance… “Don’t be afraid to get up and dance Melbourne… don’t be afraid!"

"Allow me to re-introduce myself… I’m Robbie Fucken Williams and for the next 2 hours, your arse is mine!”

Robbie Williams

'Rock DJ' explodes out of the gate and immediately the crowd match him on every line. Robbie has now lost the shades and jacket revealing a shirtless black vest and a matching pair of very restrictive pants – each leg appears to be semi-bound to the other across his thighs with stretchy black braces. He has fun with this outfit and grabbing a nearby black walking cane, struts across the stage demonstrating with a series of shoulder-popping breakbeat moves why he is such a showman. There are James Brown leg splits. Even a trademark Chaplin-esque moonwalk. The crowd lap it up.

It is about then that I happen to look around the crowd near me and notice another showman of note. It’s Hugh Jackman and partner Deborra-Lee Furness, sitting just a few seats along from me. I realise, much like the master magician he played in 'The Prestige’, it’s just yet another indication that when the competition is in town, you’d be a fool to miss the opportunity to come and get a few pointers on how it’s really done.

Robbie Williams

At the song’s climax, Williams, his three backup singers and able lead guitarist all gather down the front of the stage. Robbie's doing push ups, then suddenly jumps behind the guitarist just as he solos, playfully harassing him. His band are exceedingly patient but it would seem spontaneity is all in the name of the game at a LMEY show. Nothing appears to be off the table.

‘Monsoon' is next. It’s a slower more reflective song and with the pace relaxing slightly, he takes a moment to regain his breath and sits on some steps but not for too long. Within seconds he’s strutted down to the centre of the arena. I’m not sure what it is about Robbie, but he commands everyone’s attention at all times – even his own it would seem, as he frequently looks around and checks himself out on the big screen. I can’t help thinking that this level of self-belief and confidence - some would call it ego – has much to do with why Robbie is so successful. He possesses an almost magnetic attraction. When you love yourself as much as this man does and with his charm offensive turned up to 11, the prettiest of the girls are simply putty in his hands – a simple compliment on knowing all the words to a song and they visibly swoon. It’s the third song of the set already and realising that, Robbie takes a few seconds to strike poses for all the cameramen in the pit, who he knows have only these three songs to get their money shots.

Robbie Williams

“Ya miss me?” he asks at song’s end. Rapturous cheering and the first artist/audience exchange of the evening begins:

RW: “So if I said to you guys…'So unimpressed but…’ ”
MELB: “…so in awe”
RW: “such a saint but…"
MELB: “…such a whore”
RW: “so self aware...
MELB: “…so full of shit”

Yes, it’s the autobiographical ‘Come Undone’ and the crowd eagerly take up the challenge and go toe-to-toe matching Robbie both in volume and enthusiasm. The song segues effortlessly into U2’s ‘I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For’ and it’s a left side vs. right side sing-off. You have to hand it to the man – he knows how to work a crowd.

‘Me & My Monkey’ immediately follows and at once we are on a trip to the seedy side of Vegas. As Robbie regales us, his three piece brass section kick in and the spanish horn suddenly transforms it into a sordid tale of demons and drug obsession. A song that once chronicled his darkest days, it’s one he can now sing with nothing more than a mischievous smile – having long since sent those demons packing.

Before the next song Robbie impulsively recites a scathing poem. Apparently written to spite a school teacher from his past – who reduced him to tears when he told him he’d never amount to much. It’s called 'Hello Sir’ and was a hidden track on the 8x platinum first solo album, ‘Life Thru A Lens’.

Robbie then invites the support band for the night, the ‘mighty’ Lawson, to join him acoustically on a version of ‘Road To Mandalay’, and encourages the audience to join in on the smaltzy 'Bom-ba-bom’ choruses. It’s a cheesy request but when everyone sings, it’s suddenly a party anthem. Lawson’s harmonies are superb. The second song they choose to perform is a throwback to Robbie’s time in boy band Take That. It’s the mega hit ‘Back For Good’. Again the harmonies send all the girls behind me into rapturous squeals.

The immediately recognisable comedic theme from ‘The Benny Hill Show' plays for a minute or two as the stage is reset of the next part of the show. Robbie introduces his ‘Melbourne brothers’– Tim & Flynn – who accompany him on acoustic guitar on a song written specifically for his young son Charlie, who is about 3 years old, called rather surprisingly ‘Motherfucker'.

It went something like this…

"One day soon you’ll be old enough
to go out on your own and stuff
if you start loosing hope and love
it’s because
your uncle sells drugs
your cousin is a cutter
your grandma is a fluffer
your granddad’s in the gutter
your mother is a nutter
yeah, your mother is a nutter
we’re all mad motherfuckers
you’re a bad motherfucker".

At first the subject matter of the song shocks but by the end I’m actually quite impressed. Through these informal anecdotes, poems and sing-alongs, I begin to realise we are getting to see another side of the man. This personable familiarity is continued for the next song when he invites yet another guy out to duet with him on ‘Better Man’. It’s not a highly paid or recognisable backing singer but an older guy in a tidy suit. Robbie introduces him simply... ‘Please say hi to Pete… my dad'. It’s actually a really touching sight seeing father and son sitting atop bar stools looking across at each other and smiling as they belt out their respective verses – rather 'Tony Bennett’ in all it's unpretentiousness. Pete obviously enjoys the moment and by the look on Robbie’s face as he finishes, the feeling is mutual.

Robbie then teases the audience by asking if we know some of these songs and then looks up into the stands and spots a well-heeled couple arriving VERY late for the gig. “Have you just been to the toilet or are you late coming back?…Oh…Are you late coming to the gig? …Cos’ you’ve missed A LOT!…Have you just arrived? Oh well, let me catch you up with things…”. What he then does is hilarious.

Robbie gets ‘Love Supreme’ rolling along nicely before disappearing for a costume change. The RW band kick in for a few minutes with the 'Lazy Day’s' intro. Before we realise it, the man is back for a double dose of rock. It’s Queen’s 'We Will Rock You' followed by Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock 'n' Roll’. The screen is now a towering stack of pulsing amplifiers shooting sparks to the beat of the song and the volume has definitely kicked up another notch.

A pretty young girl is plucked from the audience and – after Robbie is assured 'Michelle' is definitely over 21 – is invited to “platonically, as friends, jump into bed" with him. A vertical bed has been positioned centre stage and when Robbie and his new partner get in, a video screen lights up in front of them depicting their bodies, from their necks down, under the sheets. It’s a clever visual gag and is entertaining to watch for the duration of ‘Hot Fudge’. I have no idea if Michelle actually realises what is appearing on screen but she's very good natured and seems to be having a ball.

Fan footage from YouTube:

‘Feel’ is next and the whole of Rod Laver Arena is now a mass of red lasers which vividly frame gritty monochromatic footage of Robbie. It is at this point that I realise from the closeup shots just how much energy he is putting into this performance. Robbie looks like he's coated in grease but it’s the sweat… as I watch it freely drips off his elbows – and his toned shoulders and arms now look a hairy slimy mess. The pace has now slowed noticeably and it’s obviously the warm down portion of the show. A cover of Lorde’s ‘Royals’ elicits plenty of ‘aaahs' and ‘yeah’s' from our neighbours. This then segues cleverly into the 007-styled ‘Millennium’ whose chord sequence and video imagery borrows heavily from the Cubby Broccoli canon of work. We see a perpetual animation of microphones, guns, speedboats, Aston Martins, space shuttles, and the obligatory slinky dancing girls appearing from behind a spinning metal cog. My 13 year old son who is a big Bond fan calls it on the spot. His absolute favourite part of the concert.

The band break into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, which slides effortlessly into ‘Kids’. With everyone in the audience recognising it and singing along, it’s another stadium anthem. Robbie is on cruise-control now and vocal duties are shared between the four backing singers. The stage setup is dominated by three gigantic rotating mirrorball busts of Robbie's head – each one in a in different state of facial euphoria. The lasers and lights bounce off them turning the stadium into a virtual disco. Robbie uses the break to tread the catwalk again, exchanging winks, waves and generally shake his tush to the crowd. The show is peaking and one senses the end can’t be far away now. The song ends, Robbie waves and it’s an encore break. No one moves from their seats, sensing we haven’t yet had 'Angels' and there has be more to come.

Robbie Williams

Within a few minutes the big screen lights back up with the iconic still from Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Robbie effectively becomes the conductor of the audience – standing centre stage using his cane as a conductors baton as we all sing along – he occasionally joins in but for all intents and purposes we’re the ones doing all the work here! This really is the life isn’t it, I think. It reminds me more than a little of Kanye West’s controversial Glastonbury version of the same song but the saving grace here is that Robbie actually hits the high notes he goes for.

Then it’s time for Robbie’s version of the World Party composition he made famous on his second album. Yes, it's ‘She’s The One’ which he endearingly dedicates to Sheba, an elderly female fan from France – thanking her for her enthusiasm and unswerving dedication. It’s a stellar composition and it’s no wonder it was this second hit single that really catapulted Robbie’s career into hyperspace.

Robbie Williams

This is followed up with his other hit, a heavenly version of ‘Angels’. I say heavenly because for the next five minutes, for all intents and purposes, Rod Laver Arena becomes a place of worship filled with a few thousand of Robbie’s most adoring female choristers, all singing along in perfect harmony. It doesn’t get much better. At the song’s end the full band depart the stage and now it’s just us and Robbie, at the end of the catwalk, for some intimate ‘goodbye' karaoke. He lies down against a teleprompter which is beamed up on the big screen. We all sing along accompanying Robbie on a final version of Frank Sinatra's ‘My Way’. For some here it’s a bittersweet moment but for the girls next to us it's just another day. Hey, they’re coming back tomorrow AND the next day because as they say, too much Robbie Williams is NEVER enough!

I came tonight, with my young son in tow, not owning any of Robbie’s music but keeping an open mind. And I’m happy I did – both of us were really surprised at just how many songs we knew. True to his word, all we really had to do was turn up and let him entertain us! If you get the chance to check out a show on the LMEY World Tour, make sure you don't pass it up. Grab a ticket and get along – you won’t regret it. An evening with Robbie Williams is a lesson in just how far self belief, ego and a healthy dose of self esteem can get you in the world - a highly ENTERTAINING night out.

Robbie Williams

Fan footage from YouTube:

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