Robbie Williams, Hampden Park, Glasgow

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The Independent Culture

What critical acceptance Robbie Williams may have been in possession of might have dropped in recent years, but there are still precious few pop artists who could oust Scotland's national football team from their own stadium on a European Championship qualifying weekend. Yet, when an eagle like Williams lands in town, there can only be one winner.

Perhaps that might explain why most of the men in the audience appeared to be boyfriends and husbands dragged along for the event and a little embarrassed to admit they were having a really good time. Such is the stoic impassivity of the Scots male, and Williams’ not-unfounded image as a favourite of chirpy housewives and office juniors in pink cowboys hats doesn't make him the most masculine of acts to confess a liking for.

Yet nor does it make him the bastion of old-school British light entertainment which he is often miscast as. True, he might address the audience with an arched delivery of which Kenneth Williams would be proud, but his stadium show is never less than an utter spectacle, and one built on a batch of canny pop songs constructed over a decade by some of pop’s most astute minds. On radio so many of them melt into the airways; live, each one possesses an anthemic quality born of simple repetition and the fans’ beatific response.

Even his lengthy between-song chatter is largely amusing, rather than blithely irritating. The introduction of his friend Jonny Wilkes on stage for a time - Wilkes sportingly lapping up the boos, which he apparently received for the crime of actually not being Williams - sees the pair make some dodgy puns about the first few rows getting a chance to "feel Robbie's balls'' - it's a game, and the night's one Generation Game moment.

Otherwise, he conforms to the image of the likeable but swollen-headed rock god which has been carefully - and somewhat artificially - sculpted over the years. On spotting an attractive girl in the front row, he professes excitement that she's with her twin sister, and proceeds to serenade her. It's corny, of course, but somewhat amusing nevertheless. Another comment is more telling, on the subject of Take That's recent reformation: "They told me, 'You've got to do it Robbie'. But I thought, 'Y'know, I've sold 3 million tickets for my own tour...'''. Wild cheering ensues.

Extravagant versions of early hits like Let Me Entertain You and ever-populist hymn Angels are delivered in his charismatically immodest manner, while Come Undone and Advertising Space, for example, exemplifies a more sonorous hangover-of-fame persona Williams has adopted of late. His recent collaborator Stephen 'Icicle Works' Duffy is onstage throughout, while a respectful version of Take That's Back For Good - forgoing their ironic thrash-style he's previously used to distance himself from the past - is also rolled out.

Yet perhaps most interesting is the forthcoming single Rude Box. Employing a riff which sees Williams rapping patchily while girls in customised Adidas jiggle around him, it's both a refreshing musical departure and a break from his merciless lyrical self-referencing.

However his new direction is received, it's certainly not cabaret.

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