Phoenix from the flames: Robbie takes the Roundhouse

Phoenix from the flames: Robbie takes the Roundhouse

Dana Moss shares her thoughts on Robbie Williams’ Apple Music Festival show

‘There is always a moment of uncertainty before a Robbie concert as the lights go down. Will he be the fun, high on his own self-importance Robbie? Or will he be the manic and slightly sweaty Robbie, who looks a bit bewildered and lost on the stage? It’s a trick question. He is always both at once.

Tonight is no different.

Armed with a variety of anthemic hits and an ability to throw cheerful digs at Gary Barlow at an astoundingly swift rate, Robbie makes the Roundhouse seem bigger than the intimate space it really is. While the Apple Music Festival has a remarkably star-studded line-up, featuring Robbie alongside artists such as Britney Spears and Elton John, the festival seems dwarfed in comparison: this is Robbie’s show.

Everything about Robbie tonight is on point. He is wearing an odd, jarring black and white suit which is entirely patterned with butterflies – the longer the night goes on, the more it unravels until he looks ready for bed. It only takes a song and a half before he’s eagerly unbuttoning his trousers to show off his underwear, which is a replica (or perhaps the very original, who can say?) of those worn in the Rock DJ video, and during Something Stupid he paws Denosh Bennett (one of the backing vocalists) so openly I was surprised the ‘viewer discretion is advised’ warning didn’t flash repeatedly.

This is all part of Robbie’s erratic charm.

He’s never been a particularly talented vocalist, but between his personality and his self-assured confidence, it’s easy to forget he isn’t the most technically proficient singer in the world. And although he ducks away from hitting some of the more challenging notes in his songs (which he later explains away as illness, an excuse none of us believe but happily forgive him for anyway) the crowd is so electrified by his ebullient presence that there really is no need for him at all. Every lyric is echoed back at him with perfect precision; they know every single song, even his offbeat swing tracks.

But Robbie’s repertoire is almost suffocated with hits. Even with a couple of covers and an album track or two generously thrown in, the rest of the setlist is hit after hit after hit. It’s easy to forget just how renowned Robbie is as an artist until you hear his songs lined up one after another, and still feel a pang of regret for the bangers he didn’t include (Radio was a loss to the setlist, but I have a particular fondness for the much criticised Rudebox which seems unlikely to be mirrored by anyone else.)

Let Me Entertain You is the opening number, followed swiftly by Rock DJ: two songs guaranteed to get a crowd screaming, and a daring move because of this (the man has so many hits he can casually deploy two songs this big in one killer pairing). Come Undone is a particular highlight, powerful and insistently emotional, but perhaps even more moving is when Robbie displays his range of abilities outside of his charismatic performances through a touching acoustic rendition of Better Man, accompanied by his father.

The show soon descends into perfect, Robbie-esque madness. A bra is thrown on stage, although Robbie seems unimpressed with the offering and quickly discards it. He mockingly covers Back For Good with his incisive rewrite “A fist of pure emotion – whatever that means” and introduces one song with a rambling, although charming description of fatherhood and his daily battles with his two daughters.

The show draws to a close with Angels, a beautiful and stirring song no matter the occasion – even more touching as Robbie, clearly emotional, dedicates it to his deceased manager. It is Robbie’s iconic song, and it is given dramatic emphasis by the swelling chorus filling the Roundhouse and being echoed back by a clearly besotted crowd. There is something enduring about Robbie, something that has survived the dark recesses of the mid noughties – and it seems clear he is not planning on slowing down any time soon.

Robbie’s performance at the Roundhouse can be accessed on Apple Music for a limited time only. His new single Heavy Entertainment Show was released on September 27th and the album of the same name will be released on November 4th.

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