Your mum was right all along, Robbie Williams is oddly brilliant live

The charm of a cult leader paired with a Liberacean sense of showmanship. 

Image source: 
Lee Dot Photography

Robbie Williams mounted the stage at his first Melbourne appearance and squeezed the crowd like an orange without ever looking like he was really trying.

In the minutes before Williams emerged onstage, the audience was compelled to stand to attention and sing the ‘National Anthem of Robbie’, ribbingly paying tribute to Williams’s accomplishments and the exceptional size of his manhood, to the tune of Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. It says everything about Williams’ persona, and the devotion of his audience, that none of this seemed creepy or awkward.

Wearing a silken boxing robe, Williams opened with ‘Let Me Entertain You’ flanked by backup dancers wearing boxing gloves and supported by a horn ensemble. It was an appropriate overture for his performance, and Rod Laver responded with hysterical adoration. This was followed by ‘Monsoon’ and ‘Minnie the Moocher’, the only offerings of the night from Williams’ swing repertoire.

Williams may be the most consummately "masculine" performer onstage today, his persona a burlesque of all that is equally enticing and furiously obnoxious about the male gender.

With ‘Freedom! ‘90’, Williams slowed down for a moment and engaged the audience with a heartfelt tribute to George Michael. This preceded the first real stunt of the evening, in which Williams mounted a bizarre contraption -– an outsized boxing glove on a mechanical arm that carried him over the heads of the crowd as he sang ‘Love My Life’.

Another pleasingly daffy moment arrived when Williams sang an acapella medley of seemingly every ‘80s standard ever, mashing together ‘Take On Me’, ‘Don’t You Want Me’, ‘Livin on a Prayer’ and other tracks you might expect to hear on season three of Stranger Things.

Throughout the evening, Williams engaged with all 15,000 sweaty, beer-spilling Melburnians who had come to watch him play. At one point, he compelled a flustered fan named Ashley to sing the lyrics to ‘Come Undone’ from memory, for which she received a t-shirt. Later, a somewhat steadier fan named Justin was pulled onstage. After receiving copious 'boos' for being from Queensland, Justin and Robbie delivered a romantic duet performance of ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, followed by a slow dance. Even Bob Katter would have found it precious.

Other stunts included a surprise appearance by Williams’ father Pete Conway, looking dapper in a tuxedo. The two reclined on a couch and sang their way through Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ – another illustration of Williams’s ability to toggle between the profane and the cute without anyone quite noticing.

After the finale, an engaging delivery of the 1997 hit ‘Angels’, Williams played coy for about three seconds before delivering a double-encore of ‘Land Down Under’ and ‘My Way’, the first of which drew an appreciative giggle from the crowd.

Robbie Williams is not Mozart, Shakespeare or Rembrandt. Not even close. He is, however, an enjoyable -- if not, at times problematic -- pop artist. His supersized narcissist persona is betrayed by his generosity to the audience and his readiness to share the spotlight with his band and backup dancers, who joined him for a stage bow at the end of the concert. He came to entertain us -- and that's exactly what he did.