Robbie Williams might be far from his musical peak, but a commanding headline show to close BST Hyde Park proved hes still peerless when unleashed on the live stage.
Whatever your opinion on Robbie, he could never fall into the bracket of boring. From his late 90s heyday rubbing shoulders with Britpop icons, turning the pop microscope on himself with Come Undone or Sexed Up, going full Rat Pack, all the way through to partying like a Russian, Robbies the template for making even career duds a fascinating spectacle.
Its an awareness of his flaws which makes Robbie an endearing personality. Kicking off his BST Hyde Park show, the crowd are invited to sing the Robbie national anthem — with lyrics about giving rap a go on Rudebox, failing to crack the USA, and ending with thousands bellowing hes well hung. Its ridiculous, but in a pop age where the offensively polite Ed Sheeran and George Ezra rule the roost, its a welcome throwback to when arrogance reigned supreme.
With this many hits, Robbie has earned his license to cock around too. From the opening chimes of Let Me Entertain You, a song which could still fire up a party inside a nunnery, the crowd are putty to his command. Were pinged across his entire spectrum, where Old Before I Die sits alongside prancing lollipops on Candy, before he serenades a member of the crowd on a sofa for Somethin Stupid.
Theres moments where sincerity shined through the bravado too. For a rendition of Take Thats Never Forget, former X Factor contestants Misunderstood and Acacia & Aaliyah he mentored are brought out onstage. The crowd might not have remembered them, but seeing their faces light up as thousands throw up their arms for the chorus had warmth no reality TV could muster. Later, Robbies dad Peter joined him to cover Neil Diamonds Sweet Caroline, recalling how watching his father sing inspired his career.
If the first half was light on Robbies imperial phase, the second felt like flicking through a classic songbook of British pop. No Regrets, Millennium, Shes The One, Kids, and Feel are dropped one after the other with the crowd throwing back every word. Eternity and Escapology deep cut Hot Fudge are also dug out for the occasion, with the former about his friendship with Geri Horner sounding even better than in 2001.
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By the time Rock DJ transforms Hyde Park into a euphoric hen do, theres a sense youre watching the last of a dying breed of popstar — one free from the self conscious social media age who can embody Britains classic trait of not giving two sh*ts. Even his most generic songs, like the plodding Love My Life, at least feels spun through Robbies carefree blender.
As Angels rings out across the field, Robbie lets the audience carry the tune — knowing its practically engrained into the salt of the earth on these shores. While its a sight hes seen countless times before, he seemed humbled by Hyde Parks huge response, remarking how this will keep the smile on his face for at least the next two weeks.
Closing with his cover of My Way holding up a lyric teleprompter for the audience, Robbie Williams proved hes a bulletproof popstar who is still untouchable as a live performer. He might know his best days are behind him, but that doesnt mean he cant celebrate, with infectious warts and all, being one of the greatest entertainers the UK has ever produced.
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