There’s a special kind of anticipation that comes with seeing your favourite musician on stage. I remember all too clearly the breathtaking excitement of Robbie Williams’ first Australian tour in 2006. At 9am, I joined the overly-enthusiastic group of fans outside Suncorp Stadium. I waited eagerly to get in first, so that I could get closest to the stage. Finally, after 9 long hours, we were allowed entry. We swarmed the stage. After fighting off delirious women, I secured myself a spot at the front. There was no one between the stage and myself, giving way to a breathtaking view of a performance that I’ll never forget. Robbie Williams strutted on stage and delivered a rocking performance that had all of Australia talking. He came, he saw, and he delivered.
Eight years later, Robbie finally returned to Australia. Within minutes of ticket sales opening, I had secured my spot at the front again. After so much time, Robbie’s career has become somewhat tumultuous. After several stints in rehab and declining album sales, the public appeared to have been falling out of love with the superstar of the 90s.
The “Swings Both Ways Tour” was here to promote his latest album of the same name, a series of covers performed as duets with some of the world’s biggest names in music. The reception had been lukewarm. Even as a fan, I had my doubts about his ability to deliver an entire arena tour off the back of this album on his own.
After all these years, my own stamina was less than it used to be, so turning up an hour early was the best I could muster. I had secured front pit tickets already, promising the best views possible. When the doors finally opened, the audience poured into the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. The energy was electric and anticipation was high. After inquiring about the opening act, I was informed there was none. Robbie doesn’t need an opener.
Indeed he didn’t, and as the curtain raised, it was as though no time had passed. Albeit with a better haircut and a sharper looking suit, Robbie took to the stage with all the charm and charisma he’d ever been known for. As a musician and an entertainer, time has clearly been good to him. His presence was stronger than ever as he strutted up and down his custom built stage. That stage was a great asset, allowing him to shake hands with fans, walk down to greet them, and even take a moment to sign the cleavage of another.
Regularly taking time to talk to, sing to, and engage with his fans added a dynamic that had been lacking in his last tour. There was a great sense of enjoyment from him as a performer. It was clear that Robbie was in his element.
The setlist was almost entirely dedicated to his Swings Both Ways album, which, despite the absence of his duet partners, was executed flawlessly. However, he made sure to keep a few tricks up his sleeves. “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” was proudly sung as a surprise duet with his father, and a lucky fan was treated to a fake marriage during “That’s Amore”. Most impressively, he appeared in an inflated “fat suit”, whilst being suspended mid air for “Nobody Likes a Fat Pop Star”. It was that self-deprecating attitude that kept his performance grounded, as he never shied away from mocking his own achievements, or lack thereof. During a medley of his major hits of the past 20 years, he took a moment to take a cheeky swipe at his Aussie fans for some recent lackluster chart success.
With no encore to end the evening, Robbie made sure the night went out with a bang, ending with his hit “Angels”. Phones flashed, torches lit up, and the audience swayed. An entire stadium singing in unison, entranced with the magic of a performer who was truly born for the stage. With a smile and a wink, Robbie Williams took one final lap of the stage, stopping as he finished to turn and reach out to his fans. With swift sincerity he reached down and took my own hand for a brief shake and a thank you. He moved on, repeating the motion for a small pocket of fans, before leaping onstage for one final bow. A confetti canon exploded, filling the stadium with pink paper, and with that, he was gone.
Robbie Williams again proved himself a true showman, defying his critics and delivering an outstanding performance. Well worth the eight years’ wait, here’s hoping the wait is shorter next time round.