As many good reviewers do, I recently came by a couple of free tickets to the Robbie Williams ‘Swings Both Ways Live’ show at the Phones 4u Arena in Manchester.
Robbie Williams isn’t an artist I would have gone out of my way to see, or probably paid my own money to see, but he has had some hit songs I know and quite like, and his recent ‘Go Gentle’ song will resonate with any father of girls.
I enjoyed that song, along with some of his other stuff, so I was interested to see him. I was not too clued up on his beginnings other than he was from an early manufactured group (Take That) out of Manchester – along with Gary Barlow – whose first appearance was on The Hitman and Her (remember that?).
I have never been much of a fan of manufactured pop, not since Stock, Aitken & Waterman did it properly. Now, manufactured pop is all about Simon Cowell’s ego, and people paying 50p (or whatever it costs) to vote on dire TV shows where people are humiliated, and its all about the profit.
However, now and again, as with Gary Barlow, some likable chaps eventually mature from the manufactured TV/kiddie pop scene and become proper artists. Having recently seen Robbie WIlliams on Graham Norton, and having enjoyed the sentiment in the ‘Go Gentle’ song, I was cautiously optimistic that Robbie may have matured into a proper singer. So off to Manchester we go…….
The bizarrely named ‘Phones 4u’ arena in Manchester was the venue. Dreadful place. It is not a proper music venue, it is more like a large warehouse with some steeply arranged seats. The building has no acoustic qualities whatsoever, and the place was at about 30 degrees centigrade with no ventilation or air conditioning, and thousands of people sweating doesn’t make for a nice atmosphere.
And at the ‘Phones 4u’ arena in Manchester, a bottle of pretty grim – apparently French – Chardonnay costs…… let me say it quietly…….. seventeen quid! The stuff is like vinegar. I’d rather have drunk Balsamic. At least that tastes nice and comes in a glass bottle.
The show was billed to start at 7.30pm. The man himself finally made an appearance about 8.15pm. I dislike the implied arrogance behind that with any artist. 45 minutes was about my cut off point, beyond that, I was ready to go, as it implies that my time, and the time of all the people there, has no value. It implies some artist saying, “let them wait” while he is chugging on a cool beer and a Silk Cut in his dressing room watching Corrie.
There were no supporting acts or warm up acts, just some piped music at high volume. If punctuality is an issue for Robbie, I would have gotten someone in to warm up the crowd. Hell, even Jedward would have killed the 45 minutes I was sat on my arse waiting for Robbie to entertain me.
So eventually, the man himself appears. He has a large repertoire of hit songs so I guess I’ll hear one of them pretty soon.
He seems to have imagined that now he is over forty, he can morph into some kind of sophisticated Rat Pack type singer. But he doesn’t have the gravitas or voice to pull it off.
The backing band were OK, the dancers were OK, but the acoustics in the venue made the band loud and the singing he did more like shouting to be heard. Accordingly, the choice of ‘Shine My Shoes’, ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’, ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’, ‘Minnie The Moocher’ and ‘Swing Supreme’ were pretty forgettable. More like bad Karaoke down the Dog & Duck.
Lots of people paid real cash money to see this stuff, and not yet a song that is his? Thousands of people doing ‘jazz hands’ listening to some bloke trying to croon some Rat-Pack stuff; badly.
At this point is where I realise this man is not a singer. Not an artist of repute. He will not join the halls alongside Bowie, Elton John or Tina Turner.
Then we have something called ‘No One Likes a Fat Pop Star’ that involves him wearing a fat suit, hanging on a wire above the stage? Excuse me, what? What is this rubbish if not some mid life crisis? Sing Millenium why not? These people came and paid money to see the bloke sing stuff they know.
Oh, what next? A cute girl from Blackpool brought on stage to take part in some bizarre ‘Showbiz Wedding’ , which includes Robbie telling us it was “nice to be a slag” in the 90’s. Classy.
A rendition of ‘Ignition’ with some kind of male voice choir. Ooh err missus.
A song from Jungle Book with him wearing a monkey face. Really?
We got some songs where he changed some lyrics. As Elvis once worryingly did full of drugs or drink during a rendition of ‘Love me Tender’. Speaking of Elvis, there was a dreadful attempt at the song Trouble, done in the Elvis style, and also some bloke mopping Robbie’s head with towels at one point. Famous? Yes. Like Elvis? No – Elvis could sing. Now I am starting to cringe……
It gets better. Some random kids are wheeled on, sat on some steps, Robbie sits in the middle and a dubious rendition of ‘High Hopes’ is belted out. It’s all terribly camp with a hint of Jim’ll Fix It. Who are these kids? Where are they from? Do people pay to see Robbie Williams to watch some kids sing? Odd. Totally out of context.
Now we know the tour is called ‘Swings Both Ways’, which means bisexual, and we know Robbie claims to be 49% Gay, but really, this show is camp. It is more camp than Larry Grayson in the Manchester gay village wearing a feather boa and five inch heels (indeed, feather boas are in this show). The backdrop is a pink boat at one point, some dancers are mixed race men in sailor outfits. At the start of the show, we are shown Robbie’s arse several times.
The message is in no doubt. This bloke likely bats for both sides. We are seeing here gay propaganda. I doubt this tour will visit Russia where gay propaganda is illegal.
So there is a halfway point intermission. More of a relief in many ways. At this point, there had been only one faintly recognisable tune we have had of Robbie’s, and during most of that, he had the crowd singing into the microphone instead of him.
We come back from the intermission to hear the above-mentioned Elvis impersonation, followed by ‘Hit the Road, Jack’, Jackie Williams’ ‘Reet Petite’ and amazingly, Lulu’s ‘Shout’. Again, really?
Into the second half, and with about 40 minutes to go, my wife and I decided to leave. This is some bloke who can’t sing, trading on past glories, knocking out a cross between kids pantomime and drunken karaoke.
As we were leaving, there were many minutes of random talking, followed by an unexplained rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’. The schedule tells me that I just missed ‘Go Gentle’, but at 30 degrees, in a place reeking of sweat with no ventilation, I’ll listen to the MP3 on Youtube instead of some bloke yelling in a warehouse with no air conditioning.
Many people were outside in the corridors drinking beer as we were leaving. Clearly, drinking over-priced beer was more appealing than listening to Robbie Williams.
As we left, other people were leaving too. So obviously we were not the only ones to be disillusioned by Robbie Williams.
So the synopsis: He can’t really sing. Pay to see him and he will sing other people’s songs, in a monkey outfit, or in a fat suit on a high wire or with some random kids. In between songs he will lament about being over 40 and how he used to have lots of sex with fans. He will sing other people’s songs, sprinkle in some expletives, and sit with some children.
Robbie is done. On X-Factor today, Simon would vote him off in three warbled lines. The future is pantomime in Brighton (a place famous for gays) or local radio interviews. He probably has enough cash from this tour and royalties to live happy ever after so he probably doesn’t care. Good luck to the lad.
If not, he is a good entertainer. I’d be happy to drop him a fifty to entertain the kids at a birthday party.