Robbie Williams, Roundhouse, London
Spandau Ballet, O2, London

Robbie Williams puts on his first gig in three years, but that's nothing compared with the lucrative rebirth of Spandau Ballet – minus the kilts

With unsold copies of Rudebox providing compacted ballast for the Olympic Village, the careful calculation behind Robbie Williams's latest comeback is critical. It's always hazardous to write of a consensual "we", but there was a time when "we" broadly liked Robbie Williams. His pop video persona had Britain charmed.

At some indefinable moment, something changed, and the incessant reportage of his boy-cries-wolf traumas became tedious and slightly sad (in the unsympathetic sense); nowadays "who cares?" is the resounding response.

He does, nevertheless, retain a rabid if reduced following, as proven by a few lunatics on lilos camping on Chalk Farm Road overnight, and by holding his first gig in three years in the relatively intimate Roundhouse, with the BBC providing a miniature orchestra to class it up a bit.

If you want to reclaim your status as a pop star, it helps if you look like one. On this score, Williams fails. His face is still that of an eight-year-old cheeky scamp from a TV ad casting agency, but his Clooney-esque poivre-et-sel hair reveals his age, and his dress sense: blue denim and brown shoes, like a dad at a barbecue, and a grey shirt with sweat patches under the arms, like a summertime strap-hanger on the London Underground.

This Electric Proms set, ostensibly a launch for imminent comeback album Reality Killed the Video Star but dotted with crowd-pleasing hits such as "Feel" and "Angels", features personnel including Art of Noise's Anne Dudley on piano, Lol Creme of 10cc and "Godley & ..." on backing vocals and, on bass, Trevor Horn, who produced Reality and whom Williams honours by encoring with a cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star". Twitching and gurning, twirling a Freddie Mercury-style half-length mic stand like a drunken fencer, doing the chimp walk and miming fellatio with a TV camera, he takes the "y" out of "cocky".

The new material is a mixed bag. There's a lost Guy Chambers song built on a terrible "blasphemy"/"blast for me" pun, a soppy number called "I Won't Do That to You" for his "missus" (American soap actress Ayda Field), and the George Michael-ish disco tune "Starstruck" with Goldfrappy Star Trekky backing vocals. He tells us he's pleased the front row isn't singing along, because it proves the album hasn't leaked. Give it three months and see if he's still so happy.

Some of the banter is better than the actual music. Before "No Regrets" (its lyrics altered to make them less anti-Take That), he cheesily tells us "I've got a new best mate and his name's Gary Barlow", and reminisces about meeting up with his former bandmates last year, clearing the air, and getting on so well that he went out and had a TT logo tattooed on his wrist, to which Gary, Jason, Mark and Howard exclaimed "You prick!" in unison. And the anecdote about getting 40,000 people at the Old Trafford cricket ground to point and boo at the VIP section for not standing up and dancing – only to find that it was the disabled section – is immortal.

But "Millennium", with its invitation to "come on and see the sarcasm in my eyes", inadvertently reveals what was always unappealing about Williams, beneath the twinkly-eyed surface: rather than make an emotional connection, Williams has always prioritised chasing the zeitgeist, with layers of protective irony. The danger of that is that when the zeitgeist moves on, you're stranded high and dry.

So, a decade since his cultural peak, here he is trying to play catch-up. The single "Bodies" may have stalled at No 2, but it is – as he's at pains to point out – his highest first-week sale since "Rock DJ". Operation Robbie Relaunch is a qualified success.

"From half-spoken shadows emerges a canvas. A kiss of light breaks to reveal a moment when all mirrors are redundant. Listen to the portrait of the dance of perfection: the Spandau Ballet." This pretentious prose-poem is how Robert Elms, to stifled giggles, introduced the then painfully hip Spands at the Scala in 1980. Their 2009 comeback, blatantly driven by accounting rather than art, steers clear of anything so baroque, and, as though embarrassed by it, excises the camp of their kilted early days. Sure, they open with rent-boy confessional "To Cut a Long Story Short", but the homo-eroticism of "Musclebound" – a Top 10 hit – is omitted.

Instead, the Success Coat years (those shoulder-padded frock coats that all Eighties bands wore once they'd made a few quid) are emphasised, which plays well with a crowd composed largely of women who used to be 14 once, and their suffering husbands. Martin Kemp gets the biggest scream, followed by Steve "Plonker" Norman.

There was always something unlovable about Spandau, and a lot of it was to do with Tony Hadley, a wally who clearly never "got" the New Romantic aesthetic. It's Hadley's croon that drives their worst, if most successful material. I'll admit to setting fire to my post-punk principles for a shoutalong to "I'll Fly for You", but not for sax-backed soft rock like the unimaginably patronising "Through the Barricades", whose refrain "And we made our love on wasteland" isn't even Spandau's worst lyric. For that, it's a coin-toss between "She used to be a diplomat/But now she's down the Laundromat" and "These are my salad days/Slowly being eaten away".

It's worth enduring this dross for the good stuff: a killer white funk medley of "Chant No 1/Paint Me Down" and "The Freeze". Maybe it is all about the money, but when you're swishing your kilt to the Spands in full-on synth mode, it barely matters.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US