Music industry insider Victoria Wyatt reviews Robbie Williams' Rome gig on 7 July.
"Hello! Is there anybody out there? Roma! Are you ready? Then...LET...ME...ENTERTAIN...YOU!!"
The King of Swagger, Robbie Williams, Mr Entertainment himself graced the Rock in Roma stage last night, performing for a crowd that in terms of size could easily have rivalled that of Bruce Springsteen's gig there two years ago.
Eager fans began arriving at the Capanelle venue from about 08.00, prepared with giant backpacks from which to draw sustenance for the up to 14-hour wait some endured before the show.
No Robbie Williams performance can be described as just a show, it is a “spettacolo” of great proportions, and even without the full stage set he normally has, the five road trucks of equipment that was brought along added qualities to the otherwise simple stage that gave the show an arena quality lacking from other Rock in Roma shows (even Bruce).
A 15-m catwalk brought Robbie right into the midst of the heaving crowd, (the front of which was full of what can only be described as scantily clad ladies, although a surprising amount of men were in attendance too), and the light show and sound quality beat anything I have seen in a long time (although I highly expect Muse to outperform in all of those aspects in the coming weeks).
Only Robbie can get away with stage gear and behaviour that included a kilt, trousers inspired (and possibly designed) by Jean Paul Gaultier, multiple bum flashes, even more than expected tiger-clad crotch flashes and a diamante-studded microphone stand that doubled as a cane and pointing stick.
A five-piece band, three-piece brass ensemble and four of the hottest back-up singers that the world has ever seen graced the stage with Robbie, and were a vital part of every track. The singers joined him on the catwalk on numerous occasions, tearing up the stage throughout with video-clip-worthy choreography. However this was very much “the Robbie show” as we were never introduced to any of the backing singers, which I feel is a shame, as it takes but a moment and shows huge respect from the focal star.
This is one of the first shows on Robbie's world Let Me Entertain You tour, and it was a veritable “best of”, focusing on the known and loved, and paying little attention to tracks from the Under the Radar Vol. 1 album that was released last year. Opening with the title track of the tour, the 1997 single (fifth single) from his debut album Life thru a Lens, and closing with the classic Sinatra closer My Way, we were treated to a little Take That, a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody (which was either a giant middle finger to Kanye to show how it should be done, or a true tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen as he said) and a version of We Will Rock You in which he cleverly inserted "Roma" and changed some of the lyrics to showcase his Italian knowledge.
It was a huge spettacolo that was a little too perfect in every way – over rehearsed, almost made for TV (which given the amount of TV cameras around the stage screams of future “Live in Rome” DVD) and gave us plenty of show but not as much substance as this particular concert-goer likes from a live show.
No doubt he gave 100 per cent... he had a few personal speeches and even learnt some Italian words and phrases, but the fact that there were 10 teleprompters scrolling the lyrics (and guitar breaks), and such a short set of only an hour and a half, no matter how much fun they seemed to be having and how sincerely he wanted to be Rome's prodigal son, one can't help but feeling a little like we are a small cog on the rolling money machine of pop stardom.
77 million album sales and the world's fastest-selling concert tickets don't lie, the man is the king of posturing and pop personified, and I will see him again. He is a cheeky chappy whose constant movement and love for his craft is a joy to behold... I'll go again in the hope of seeing just that tiny spark of realness that was missing from last night's spettacolo.