When Robbie Williams made a shocking exit from Take That to embark on a solo career, he signed a record-breaking £80 million contract with EMI, the most expensive record deal the UK had ever seen.
Robbie’s XXV tour is a celebration of his 25-year solo career – one which has spawned 13 UK number one albums, seven UK number one singles, and 75 million album sales worldwide, making him one of the top-selling artists of all time. It coincides with the release of XXV, a greatest hits compilation – of which he has many, as demonstrated at Manchester’s show.
Robbie erupts from the stage on a platform, dressed head-to-toe in silver and gold, with a pair of box-new white trainers on, his hair now a silver mullet. He oozes charisma and charm as he performs the lesser known ‘Hey Wow Yeah Yeah’ but it’s his second song, ‘Let Me Entertain You’ that really gets things going.
Arena gigs can be hit or miss – Manchester Arena holds some 21,000 concertgoers, and often, this means many will attend because they like a song or two. You run the risk of people simply remaining seated and lacking enthusiasm. But, for the second of Robbie’s hat trick of sold-out Manchester shows, the atmosphere was electric, with everyone on their feet from the get-go.
The XXV tour is a true spectacle. The stage set-up includes a runway jutting out straight through the standing section, meaning the audience can get a better glimpse of Robbie. Accompanied by a full band, lights, confetti, intriguing visuals, and a plethora of scantily clad female back-up dancers, Robbie held the audience in the palm of his hand throughout, playing up to his cheeky chappy persona. He even leapt off the edge of the runway and began making his way through the first few rows of the crowd, pointing the mic at audience members and allowing them to duet with him. The largely female audience launched a multitude of bras at Williams, much to his amusement.
His solo music has stood the test of time and still attracts universal appeal: from the swooning tender balladry of ‘Monsoon’ and ‘Feel’ to the comedic cheekiness of ‘Rock DJ’ with its pumping guitar melody resounding through the arena.
He may have shaken off the boyband image a long time ago, but Robbie isn’t afraid to refer to his roots, throwing in a performance of Take That’s ‘Everything Changes’. As its music video plays on the big screens in the background, Robbie says “I felt exposed and I fucking loved it!” to cheers and laughter. ‘The Flood’ from 2010’s Progress also gets a look-in, the hit that saw Robbie return to Take That for the first time in 15 years.
Robbie Williams has endured intense media scrutiny; his highs and lows have been well-documented, and his honesty and positive attitude to this make him all the more endearing. He draws attention to men’s mental health before performing ‘Strong’, a song which touched on the subject at a time when it was rarely discussed.
Robbie’s a dab hand at working his Manchester crowd. The shows here are the closest thing to a homecoming show that the Stoke-on-Trent star will play on this tour, and he acknowledges his audience with an emotional cover of Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, a song that has found a new and poignant meaning since the 2017 Manchester Arena attack.
He goes light on his more recent material, but 2012’s ‘Candy’ and 2016’s ‘Love My Life’ make the final cut. The former is a tongue-in-cheek earworm that invites an enthusiastic sing-along from the crowd and choreography aplenty. Meanwhile, the latter is an anthem of self-love, beaming with positive affirmations. He dedicates the song to his wife, Ayda, and their four children.
A rousing rendition of ‘Kids’, originally performed as a duet with Kylie Minogue, is sung in partnership with one of Williams’ immensely talented backing vocalists. The only disappointment was the omission of ‘Millennium’ which was arguably a massive hit for the pop star.
Robbie reserves his two biggest and best hits for the encore. He returns to the stage in a black velvet robe before the back-to-back performances of ‘She’s the One’ and ‘Angels’. The former is dedicated to an audience member, Sue, who, when the cameras pan to her on the big screen, can be seen singing along and shedding a tear. No doubt this will be a night she will never forget.
When it comes to ‘Angels’, there’s not a dry eye in the house. Its one of the most iconic songs of the past 30 years, one that feels timeless, romantic, cathartic, and simply beautiful. Across the floor and along the upper and lower tiers, concertgoers can be seen wrapping their arms around one-another, swaying and waving their hands along to its huge chorus before Robbie and his band exit the stage, thanking his audience for following him throughout his tumultuous and illustrious career.
But wait – there’s more! Just when everyone thinks the show is over, Robbie walks out again and climbs back atop the platform he began the show on, for an acapella medley of his aforementioned hits. The crowd cannot get enough. He departs, as the crowd sing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ back to him – the perfect metaphor for the remarkable career he has had so far.
You can read the latest news and tour updates from Robbie Williams on his official website here.
You can stream XXV by Robbie Williams on Spotify here: