I’m titling this review “Wembley Stadium” first, then “Robbie Williams” second, which is not what I usually do. But then if you go to Wembley Stadium you go to see Wembley Stadium. The slightly tubby chap in the diamante morning coat is only a secondary affectation of the evening, flanked by occasional jets of fire, balloons and large screens that show the new Williams teeth in all their chomping glory. Robbie Williams was the size of half of my little finger. I really do mean that – I am not referring to the size of anything else. From the vaulted viewpoint at Club Wembley I could have been looking at a child’s toy, lingering over his falsetto notes and gleefully jumping on stage and naughtily spitting “I’m Robbie Fucking Williams”, as if we weren’t entirely sure what we had tickets for.
Robert Williams likes to sing. I say this because I’m convinced that not many performers who have been singing for two decades actually like to do it, and if I’d been forced to do the same job for 20 years, I’d be resentful of it too. But Robert Williams likes to sing – loves to sing, as is evidenced here and, I’ll bet, loves to sing more than flirt tritely with the audience and pretend to eat the edible bra of some choreographed woman who apparently popped up from the audience and then lure her into a bed with a red, silk, Take That monogrammed duvet (more of that later). His voice is in very very fine fettle. He has a particularly gorgeous voice. Away on what appeared to my eyes to be a tiny, aspirin sized stage, he vaulted and lurched and strutted about for nearly two hours. He even told a couple of jokes. But he looks back too much “Ten years ago today was Knebworth!” whilst relying too heavily on the machinations of stage props. Many of his stage props were large models of his own head, which he would then climb into and pop out of the top of, like a children’s party entertainer. At one point he dropped his microphone from the top of one of his large heads, narrowly missing concussing an audience member.
When he wasn’t inside his enormous head, he was creating new raps to Minnie the Moocher: “I am a blokey from Stokey / A little bit tubby and a little bit cokey….” But then the rap started banging on about the “3 lions” and how much we should all love them, and I’m afraid it was a repeat of that disastrous section in the Take That Wembley Stadium concerts of 2011 when our Robert went a bit UKIP and demanded we all stand up to sing the National Anthem. I’m not saying that singing the National Anthem isn’t a rousing thing to do of a summer’s evening, but it sat very badly between “Relight my Fire” and “Babe”.
We had a lovely rendition of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” before I went out in search for white wine with lots of ice cubes. A couple were brandishing hot dogs at each other in the food and drink zone: “But I TOLD you that my car was going. to. get. towed. WHAT did you THINK I would do?! I hate this I hate this.” The two of them were facing off against each other like cross spaniels in matching Robbie Williams official loungewear. At the plastic bar with the plastic people and the plastic glasses they had run out of ice. I was sent to another bar, which was a long walk away, probably West Harrow. I heard the seasons change. When I got back into the stadium, Robert Williams was attempting to serenade the woman I mentioned at the start of the blog entry, who was enticingly wearing an edible bikini. Much raucous whoops and cheers accompanied Williams’s shabby attempts to eat it whilst trying to sing “Everything Changes” to her. She responded by doing the same choreography as him at the same time, including ducking down with a risible wink underneath the ‘Take That’ monogrammed duvet. The whole episode was meant to be cheeky, tawdry, a little bit of end of the pier tomfoolery. Instead it came across as stale, un sexy, over-rehearsed and overwhelmingly clinical.
I am not saying I was let down – his backing band (which he forgot to thank, thanking only his support act, Olly Murs) were a sharp, fantastic selection of musicians, and “Kids” had us all jumping in our seats. An acoustic version of “Millenium” was particularly poignant. And this is the thing: When it’s just Robbie Williams, singing in front of a hefty selection of drunk women swaying whilst eating Maltesers, with nothing accompanying him but the strings of his own acoustic guitar, you are reminded what a vocal gift he has. But the strange physics of Wembley Stadium dictates that the more fluff and crap you have on the stage, the smaller the area of gravity that surrounds it. When the stage was full of high wires, balloons released intermittently as if to keep children happy, fireworks and makeshift beds, the attention wandered. There was no focus – in fact, at one point, a fight broke out on the floor of the stadium between one over-excited concert goer and another. It was so interesting that for a time most people watched that. It was just as enjoyable a spectacle as the main event. But when Robbie Williams sings “Angels” and ramps up the audience until they are singing it a cappella back at him, he truly commands a huge stadium such as this, with expertise, showmanship and deft technical ability.
Of course, he didn’t sing his other hit “Engels”, a hymn to the father of Marxism. “And through it Allllll, she offers me unionization, a polemic on economic exploitation whether I’m right or wrong…” but you can’t have it all, I suppose.
After his encore, he sat on the edge of the stage and sang another version of “Angels” without his band. Alone and singing, with half of the stadium lights turned down, he ramped up the audience to encourage them to join in with him. People starting singing as they filed out. Eventually his voice faded and he just watched everyone walk out singing his song in the darkness. I know it was an end rather more of a whimper than a bang but it was beautifully done. Next time, Mr Williams, less slap and tickle and props and spiel, just have the faith to know you only have to stand there and sing.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every other Thursday, usually. But I will be updating next week at some stage with a theatre review. Oh, and Robbie Williams didn’t really sing a song called “Engels”. That was One Direction. Thank you. The London Bluebird.