It’s a balmy midweek night in Melbourne, and Robbie Williams is back where he belongs.
After he downsized to arenas on his last couple of tours, the English pop icon’s fandom in Australia has surged back towards his early 2000s heyday, and he’s commanding stadium-sized crowds again.
There’s a couple of factors in that – he chose this city to film his upcoming biopic Better Man, his Netflix documentary has been doing the rounds, and he slayed (like we all knew he would) at the AFL Grand Final last year.
Smartly announcing a career-spanning ’25 Years of Hits’ tour on the latter visit has brought us to tonight – the first of a two-night stand at AAMI Park.
Gaz Combes of Supergrass fame is here to warm everyone up, and he seems to know his place with an extremely minimalist stage design, containing just his name in orange across three big screens. Most punters are still finding their spots, but Coombes does earn a few clap-alongs to songs from his main band towards the end of his set.
The diversity of fans here is solid proof Williams remains one of the best multi-generational entertainers of our time. There’s black-clad goths and couples in sparkly double denim having a smoko during the interval, kids with their parents in the merch and food queues, and more predictably, swarms of older ladies in their 40s-60s, some with dragged-along husbands in tow.
Unsurprisingly, Williams has everyone in the palm of his hand from the opening bars of “Hey Wow Yeah Yeah” and his readymade set starter, “Let Me Entertain You”. From there, he presents just over 90 minutes of showmanship, stories and hits few can package so well.
The first half of the show is dominated by stories of Williams’ early career days and covers, including a rendition of the Oasis classic, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, and one of his old band Take That’s most famous tracks, “Back for Good” (proceeded by footage of his butt in an old video clip plastered across the big screens). Potentially fatigued and craving more classics, the lines for a toilet break or a trip to the bar notably surge when Williams begins one of his more recent hits, 2016’s “Love My Life”.
It’s a case of ‘leave at your peril’, though, because those who did miss a huge burst of streamers, followed a short time later by Williams dishing out t-shirts left, right and centre during the upbeat “Candy”. From there he really hits his stride, with utter classics “Feel”, “Kids” and “Rock DJ” closing the main set.
If saying “I f**king love you Melbourne” a couple of times through the night didn’t suffice, the encore showcases Williams’ local research, beginning with a rousing cover of John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” while donning a Australian cricket team shirt with Shane Warne’s numbers on the back.
It’s followed by “She’s the One”, a heartfelt thank you to his loyal fans who got him through his darkest times, and a moving dedication of “Angels” to the fan who died at his Sydney concert last week. And if you were one of those who ducked out for a break, you were in luck, as Williams recited segments of about five of his biggest songs a capella before eventually leaving the stage.
It wasn’t wall-to-wall hits, but that’s only part of the Robbie Williams live experience, which remains one of the few guaranteed good times for any live music fan aged 7 to 70. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t leave AAMI Park with a smile on their face or hoping he’ll keep doing this for another 25-odd years to come.
Robbie Williams 2023 Australian Tour Dates
Presented by Chugg Entertainment and Frontier Touring
Saturday 25 November
Mt Duneed Estate | Geelong, VIC – A Day On The Green
Sunday, 26 November
Valo Adelaide 500, Adelaide, SA