The ultimate showman

Robbie Williams live in Auckland last night. Photo: Garry Brandon
Robbie Williams live in Auckland last night. Photo: Garry Brandon

The title of Robbie Williams’ late 1990s best of album, The Ego Has Landed, remains a fitting tag for the artist.

Having joked this week about now performing in indoor venues rather than the stadiums he once commanded, it’s clear Williams still has the personality to fill any arena, to hold any audience in his palm.

He achieved that in seemingly effortless fashion at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Wednesday night, the first show on the Australasian leg of his Heavy Entertainment Show tour.

Recovered from the health issues that plagued him at the outset of the tour, and with his band well-drilled from last year’s European leg, the British singer was in great form.

Working through an extensive set that included many of his biggest hits from the past two decades, Williams showed himself to be the consummate showman.

Robbie Williams. Photo: Garry Brandon
Robbie Williams. Photo: Garry Brandon

The satirical National Anthem of Robbie set the tone, big-upping the man before he bounded on stage with six dancers dressed as boxers.

High energy from the outset, Williams instantly had the near- capacity crowd in his pocket with The Heavy Entertainment Show and Let Me Entertain You.

From that left-right opening combination, it was a finely engineered performance, with peaks and troughs measured out to give the largely middle-aged audience, and the now middle- aged performer, a breather.

While every aspect is no doubt carefully planned, Williams’ audience interaction and his repertoire of gags serve to create a more intimate atmosphere — a difficult feat in a vast space.

Given his laddish persona, and appeal to the female market, it’s not surprising that there were some questionable salacious moments. Williams makes no excuses though, exclaiming, ‘‘I’m from the ’80s’’.

It’s all just showbiz, and part of a bigger spectacle. From the stunning light and video show, to the super-human band, and the dynamism of the dancers, it’s more a circus than a mere show.

There was an emotional moment when Williams brought a tearful young member of the audience on stage, and sang Something Stupid to her. The tears were explained as more than just being overwhelmed by the occasion when Williams dedicated the song to the girl’s late mother.

Another guest was the singer’s father Pete, who made a superb cameo appearance to perform Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.

And, of course, there was the back catalogue of Williams’ hits, including his cover of George Michael’s Freedom, Millennium and Rock DJ.

The encore sent the audience out into the rainy night in gentler fashion, with Better Man, She’s the One and what Williams says will always be his biggest song, Angels.

Further ingratiating himself with his Auckland fans, he proclaimed ‘‘this is the best Wednesday I’ve had in a long time’’. No doubt many of them would agree.

Five highlights

  • Williams’ huge hit single from 2000, Rock DJ, is the energetic pinnacle of the Heavy Entertainment Show
  • The Robbie Williams Band, with horn section, backing singers, and particularly versatile guitarist Tom Longworth, is impressive
  • New Zealand-based country songstress Tami Neilson is a worthy opening act, and she has a fan in Williams, who said ‘‘she’s got a bigger voice than me’’
  • Long-term Williams show closer Angels remains one of the best and most sentimental songs in his repertoire
  • Like a well-travelled comedian, Williams no doubt uses the same gags for each show, but he knows how to get a laugh, and remains the inveterate entertainer



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