Robbie Williams, Hampden Stadium, Glasgow <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

So now he's a comedy rapper
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

However much, in recent years, Robbie Williams might have lost the critical acceptance he'd once possessed, 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 ego like Robbie's lands in town, there can be only 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 that they were having a really good time.

Maybe it was down to the stoic impassivity of the Scottish male, but Williams's not-unfounded image as a favourite for chirpy housewives and office juniors in pink Stetsons doesn't make him the most masculine of acts to confess a liking for. However, it doesn't make him a bastion of old-school British light entertainment either, in which role he's often miscast.

True, he addresses the audience with a cheekily cocked eyebrow and an arch delivery of which Kenneth Williams might be proud, but his 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 airwaves; live, each one possesses an anthemic quality born of simple repetition and the fans' beatific response.

Even his between-song chatter is largely amusing, rather than blithely irritating. The introduction of his friend Jonathan Wilkes on stage for a time - Wilkes sportingly lapping up the boos, which he apparently receives for the crime of not actually being Williams - sees the pair make the odd dodgy pun about the crowd getting a chance to "feel Robbie's balls"; it's a game, and the one moment of the night Williams could possibly use when applying to host The Generation Game at a later date.

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

Extravagant versions of early hits like "Let Me Entertain You" and the ever-populist hymn "Angels" are delivered in this charismatically immodest manner, while "Come Undone" and "Advertising Space", for example, exemplify the more sonorous hangover-of-fame persona Williams has peddled of late, with marginally less success. Recent collaborator Stephen Duffy of the Icicle Works is onstage throughout, while a respectful version of Take That's "Back For Good" - forgoing the ironic thrash style previously used to distance the "new" Williams from his past - also appears.

Yet perhaps of most interest is the forthcoming "Rudebox". Employing a grinding electro-grime riff that sees Williams rapping - more to comedy effect than assertively - while girls in customised, product-placed Adidas jiggle around him, it's nevertheless a refreshing musical departure and a break from the singer's lyrical self-referencing. However the single is received on its release, it is still a small step away from the cabaret stage he's been thrust on to for so long.

Touring to 19 September (see www.robbiewilliams.com for details)

Comments