There hasn’t been an entrance quite like it since the ‘Queen’ arrived at the Olympics opening ceremony. Robbie Williams dropped in by zip chord from a position at the top of a colossal effigy of his head.
He has described the several manifestations of his cranium which form the centrepiece of his show as “my big head”, which seemed to be him laughing the whole idea off. But the narcissism of the heads, giving off fire, steam, water and balloons as he glided around the stage on board them, suggested that this was more interesting than just Robbie being Robbie.
Is there an insecurity creeping in? “An okee-dokee, Stoke-y blokey, a little but tubby and a little bit crokey,” was how Williams described himself in one of many self-deprecating moments –though a little less deprecating than Liam Gallagher had been about him, earlier last week.
“I asked you to grow old with me,” he said, a nod to what he told his audience at Knebworth exactly a decade ago. “You kept your side of the bargain. Now I get to keep mine…” And the whole, immense, extraordinary showmanship of this performance seemed to be a 39-year-old showing that age had not entirely wearied him, even if the newer music was starting to feel it a bit.
The new music of Take the Crown doesn’t hold a candle to the old stuff and "Candy" is a turkey but he made up in spectacle what he might have lost in song. This was cabaret; party time - Williams flourishing his stick and sparkling black tails and demanding that his audience provide a sense that he, touring alone for the first time since 2006, had succeeded in his attempt to “re-entertain” them.
They were principally the women who have always followed him and it didn’t matter that the atmosphere was more hen night than high end creativity because they didn’t let him down. It was when the show and the sequins were abandoned and he returned, with a red jacket, to finish with "She’s the One" and – as always "Angels" that the original, unadorned Williams was restored.
A “fat f***ing idiot” was how Gallagher described Williams. But Gallagher was playing before 1,500 people. As an enervated 60,000 audience slipped away into the warm Manchester night, you could only conclude that Williams will be packing out stadiums like this for years.