As a theatre blog, it is very rare that other artworks get cupboard space in this pantry of the dramatic arts, but occasionally a performance we attend strikes a chord and we feel it deserves an honorary mention; this is that blog post. On Saturday the 15th of October 2022, I went to see former Take That bench warmer Robbie Williams perform his XXV tour at the Birmingham Resort World Arena, formerly the NEC. Before you assume my outward love of the ageing pop star and dub him my ‘guilty pleasure’, I would note the tickets were bought for my mother who fits perfectly in his target audience of ‘middle aged women’. I will now defend my experience by saying there was no guilt in the pleasure of this show!
The performance is part of a small UK tour in collaboration with his latest album XXV, which boasts alternative mixes of his best known hits, without selling out and releasing a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. Let us first deal with the support at ‘Lufthaus’, an EDM band consisting of Tim Metcalfe, Flynn Francis and mr Robbie Williams himself; yes, Robbie William’s support act was Robbie Williams. With the size of that mans ego, would you expect any less? Though Mr Williams did not make a stage appearance during their set, Tin and Flynn tried their best to hype up the crowd by playing repetitive songs bereft of melody to a bemused audience, at the lowest point of their set a QR code appeared on the screen for the audience to download their very own Lufthaus NFT, so very very odd.
The show opened with a bit of a curveball, the song ‘Hey Wow Yeah Yeah’ from the ‘Take The Crown’ album, best known for its appearance on the Vauxhall Corsa advert recently. The moving 3D screens lifted to reveal a very simple pyramid style set, with the band adorned - the blocks used were video screens which were used to their very limits in creative stage design, a lot is to be said to the tech team on this tour who knocked it out of the park with crisp audio and an incredible light show. The song lead into the classic ‘Let Me Entertain you’, which it did from the off set, the room erupted in a sea of women in their early 50’s screaming, jumping clapping and stomping along to the classic.
“I’m Robbie Williams, this is my show, this is my arse, let me entertain you”
After the ball grabbing starter of cheesy pop, the real show began. The showman had the audience in the palm of his hand, starting with jokes about being ‘F***ked’ after performing 2 songs, call backs to his televised Nebworth show where he asked the audience to “grow old with him”, and explained the concept of the album and show. Aside from fulfilling the terms of his contract with his record label, the tour was a trip down memory lane for the last 32 years of his career, from humble beginnings of Take That and getting his bum out in their first music video, to his self destruction, going solo and leading to his sobriety.
Rather touchingly Robbie confided in his audience that he has become aware his songs fit into two categories ‘Look at me aren’t I great’ and ‘bloody hell, I’m vulnerable’, and this is down to his mental health. Most touching was his confession that 22 years ago when he had hit rock bottom, became a recluse and struggled to make friends, he found a friend in one Gerry Halliwell of the Spice Girls and wrote the song Eternity to and about her, as he sang the audience really listened to the lyrics and melody and I think this opened eyes around the arena to what a fantastic songwriter he is - Let’s not forget that last year saw the debut of Robbie’s first Musical ‘The Boy in a Dress’ adapted from the David Walliams book.
The history lesson of the life of the legend himself gave insight into how he found his voice, from leaving Take That and releasing a cover of George Michaels ‘Freedom’, in the same cheesy style expected of a Boyband. A trip to Glastonbury and time spent with Oasis inspired him to have much more guitar and drum lead tracks, and the inspiration payed off. Robbie then treated the audience to a cover of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ by Oasis, which surprisingly worked!
Coming closer to the present day he payed homage to his wife and 4 children, explained for the first time ever he is happy to be alive, happy to be loved and sang it all in ‘Love My Life’, one of his most recent hits. The show finished with ‘Rock DJ’, to leave the audience on a high, asking, ney, begging for more! The encore, three of his biggest selling songs ‘No Regrets’, ‘She’s the One’ and of course ‘Angels’. From start to finish the man controlled his audience, lightning whit, incomparable stage presence and a spellbinding performance.
In conclusion, like him or not, the man knows how to write a song (with 14 UK number one singles, 14 number one albums and 6 albums in the top 100 biggest selling albums), the man knows how to perform live (Guiness world record for selling 1.6 million tickets in one day in 2006) and the man knows how to have longevity in the business (with 32 years of success and has more Brit awards than any other artist with 18 awards and 39 nominations).
The concert concluded with Robbie proclaiming to the audience that there is still ‘loads more’ to come. The album XXV is on sale now, the XXV tour continues in the UK before moving to Europe next year. Celebrating 25 years since the beginning of his solo career a deluxe edition re-release of his debut album ‘Life Through A Lens’ is available for pre-order.