Wednesday 23 October 2019

'A daft coot trapped inside a middle-aged pop star, he wooed the audience with super-strength charm and chutzpah' - Robbie Williams at Aviva Stadium review


Ed Power

Never let it be said that Robbie Williams doesn’t give full value. At his sell out Aviva show, pop’s self-confessed egomaniac-in-chief covered Joe Dolan, waggled his bum, got stuck in a giant boxing glove and shared a heart-warming anecdote about his four-year old daughter.

Stadium concerts are often a sorry combination of overblown and impersonal. But not when Robbie is in the house. A daft coot trapped inside a middle-aged pop star, he wooed the 50,000 audience with super-strength charm and chutzpah.

The secret ingredient is probably his self-awareness. Robbie appreciates the fundamental ridiculousness of a 43-year-old bloke from Stoke on Trent serenading thousands of strangers about angels, DJs and waterfalls –  and wants you to know he’s in on the joke.

In addition to being able to laugh at himself, he brought to the Aviva one of the strongest catalogues in Nineties pop. In a saucy leather kilt, Williams pogoed through Let Me Entertain You, that simultaneously cocksure and vulnerable anthem that threw him a lifeline during the darkest hours of his post Take That career.

With Williams dashing down a ramp extending into the crowd, there followed tributes to George Michael (Freedom 90), a hat-tip to his Take That days (The Flood) and a duet, with his dad, of Sweet Caroline. A bad back, meanwhile, required the singer to deliver several numbers from a huge, silver-plated throne, which zipped left and right amid spumes of dry ice and fireworks.

Robbie had promised to sing Joe Dolan in Dublin when he appeared on the Late Late Show last year. True to his word, and with bug-eyed enthusiasm, he belted out Good Looking Woman. It was the strangest moment the Aviva had witnessed since Roy Keane ventured a smile at the Ireland v Germany soccer match.

Less successful were cuts from 2016’s Heavy Entertainment Show album. That record sought to cast Williams as an ageing heavyweight champ, a conceit that extended to the new tour with the artist arriving in boxer’s robes as his dancers donning glove and heard-guards.

Unintentional chuckles were elsewhere provided during the conclusion to I Love My Life as the giant hydraulic mitt from which Robbie was warbling fail to descend, prompting him to croon that he was "stuck on a glove…like a twat" (is it cynical to point out he pulled off much the same routine in Manchester a fortnight earlier?)

Otherwise, new material was at a minimum, with Williams clearly up for a night of nostalgia and floored by all the love ("you’ve been the best movie I’ve ever seen – it’s an absolute pleasure getting old with you").

He encored with Strong, repurposed as a rallying cry in the face of terrorism,  and Angels, his enduring power ballad. As he reached the chorus of the latter, grown men in the stands were on their feet singing into their pint glasses – proof that Williams’s singular brand of schmalzy bravado is a long way from its sell-by date.

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