Robbie Williams ends Melbourne gig with tribute to fan who died in Sydney

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Robbie Williams | XXV Tour ★★★★★
AAMI Park, November 22

Robbie Williams used his Melbourne show on Wednesday night to pay tribute to a fan who died after falling at his concert in Sydney. “It breaks my heart,” he said. “I’ve thought about it all the way through the show tonight”. After sending his love to Robyn Hall and her family, he invites everyone to sing. “Tonight this is for her.”

Robbie Williams performs at AAMI Park on Wednesday night.Credit: Richard Clifford

The singer’s genuine love for his fans forms the backbone of the night, from the way the boyband-wonder-turned-solo-superstar interacts with the crowd through to his jokes and revelations. The XXV Tour is billed as “25 years of hits”, but in reality it’s less a concert and more of a polished night of storytelling that manages to feel intimate and candid despite being performed to a crowd of thousands.

There is the music, of course. He launches into Let Me Entertain You early on as a promise of what’s to come, and finishes the main set with Rock DJ, which has the entire stadium on their feet. There are no deep cuts here – maybe a couple of nicks in the form of Take That songs – but the list is carefully chosen to complement the narrative of the night.

Fresh off the release of a four-part Netflix documentary series about his career, and with a feature film (shot in Australia, he points out) on his way, it’s a big year for hearing Williams’ story – but it’s a credit to his charisma and his magnetism that it doesn’t feel like too much. On stage at AAMI Park, he spends just as much time telling anecdotes and talking to the crowd as he does singing, the music complementing the tale he’s spinning.

“In the ’90s I tried to love you all individually. I nearly got there, too,” he says with a cheeky grin.

Williams spends as much time telling anecdotes and talking to the crowd as he does singing.Credit: Richard Clifford

Much of the patter is part of a script – almost every line that stands out, from the one that preceded this one to “tonight will be therapy for me, but it will be entertainment for you” has been said at other gigs – but that doesn’t make it any less genuine, and Williams makes every word feel spontaneous.

The way he bounces off his audience – sometimes literally – is a genuine joy. After walking into the crowd he jokes that one side of the stadium treated him with a respect bordering on concern, making him feel that his sex symbol days were truly behind him. But then, on the other side “someone really had a good go on my nipple – can I have it back?”

A story about his acrimonious split from former band Take That – whose members never really liked him, he says, and where he ended up breaking the rules and getting kicked out – leads into a cover of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger.

His rendition of Feel is performed with minimal graphics and almost in the dark, allowing the focus to be purely on his voice. He also breaks out Kids, originally a duet with Kylie Minogue with a subtly changed lyric: “The purpose of a woman is to love her man” is now “The purpose of a woman is to love herself”.

“Therapy” for Williams, entertainment for us.Credit: Richard Clifford

He pays tribute to Shane Warne twice, donning a Warne 23 cricket shirt and encouraging the crowd to chant “Warnie” with him.

The biggest focus of the night, however is his relationship with his fans, through his jokes about his lascivious past to his interaction with the crowd.

He is open about his mental health struggles, and says quite bluntly that two things saved his life – meeting his wife, and the fact that his audiences kept coming back to see him. He tells the crowd the man in front of them is the happiest he’s ever been.

Fame, he explains, intensified the voices in his head picking at his self-esteem, telling him he was no good – but in the darkest times he would tell himself, well, if he were truly so awful, would people come and see him perform?

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