Robbie Williams makes the daunting task of performing to a packed stadium look like easy work.
For the uninitiated – which, judging by the audience, is basically everyone – Lufthaus are an EDM trio that are more suited to beach parties in Ibiza than Allianz Stadium. Apparently, the two Australian DJs/producers are joined on record by an English pop singer (Rob something, we heard), but he's nowhere to be seen.
Still, the surviving two-piece don't let either their lack of star power or their alien musical stylings discourage them. They're here for a good time, not a long time – and, to their credit, they get a few hands clapping once they've gotten a few bass-heavy bangers under their belts. This brief dalliance with these party-starters is certainly not how most expected their evening to start, but at the very least, it isn't a boring kick-off.
For the uninitiated – which, judging by the audience, is about four-fifths – Gaz Coombes is an English singer-songwriter best known for his time fronting Britpop stalwarts Supergrass. Coombes is back for the first time in five years; there were plans for a 2020 Supergrass reunion tour, but it was cancelled for... some reason. Either way, he's all smiles as he leads his impressive backing band through the rock-oriented adult contemporary of his latest solo effort, Turn The Car Around. "Amicable" is perhaps the best term – not life-changing, but also not trying to be. Coombes aims for mature, heartfelt and unpretentious. More than that, he succeeds.
Respect, too, for not ignoring the elephant in the room: We're treated to three Supergrass classics in the form of Richard III, Moving and Pumping On Your Stereo, which easily serve as the set's highlights. The lack of the signature song Alright is both understanding and frustrating. Is he sick of it? Unquestionably. But how often do you get an entire stadium singing along to the support? If there's any time to go broad-brush, it's surely here. Still, it's a minor quibble when watching a veteran like Coombes at work. All these years since Supergrass' heyday, he still loves plugging in and playing live.
Out of the self-described “33-year odyssey” of Robbie Williams' career, he's spent 22 of them coming to Australia. His cheek, his charm and his endless array of hits made him irresistible to the album-buying and ticket-buying public, who have promptly filled out just about every arena he's performed in across those decades. The bond has grown deeper in recent years, too, with Williams' biopic Better Man being primarily filmed in Melbourne. So, what keeps people coming back time and time again to let Williams entertain them?
As the show plays out, several key answers present themselves. The first and most apparent is Williams' utter efficiency as a stage performer. This is a show he could likely do in his sleep – he knows the exact beats of each song, he knows his audience marks straight away to prompt the next part of the set, and he knows exactly when to reach out and when to pull back in.
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It's really the kind of stage presence that can only come with those three decades and change of being in front of adoring masses. Hell, he even knows how well we know his songs – at multiple points throughout, he drops off the mic to let his makeshift choir finish the job on the chorus. It still works, too, despite Lee Mack's infamous routine chiding him for it.
Another is Williams' ability to connect. Though his audience likely doesn't have the same wealth lying around, there's every chance they've battled the same addictions or mental health issues. Knowing that a world-famous, multi-platinum recording artist can be open, honest and vulnerable about sobriety and getting help is a truly humbling thing to watch. When he speaks, people listen – and in between his usual gags and gaffs, he makes sure these more important messages are heard loud and clear.
One could certainly put forward Williams' songbook as a significant reason, too. Let Me Entertain You gets butts out of seats just as quickly in 2023 as it did in 2001; for one, the white-boy rap and roller-disco groove of Rock DJ remains untouched at the upper echelon of his catalogue, for another. The hits roll out, certainly – Feel, Kids, Take That's classic Back For Good, and the inevitable Angels all make for standout moments during the show. It's less of a hit parade, however, and more of an interrupted procession.
At one point, after theatrically cutting off early Take That hit Could It Be Magic, Williams jokes that “no one left the house tonight”, hoping he might play that song live. That's true, but no one was hoping for Love My Life or Hey Wow Yeah Yeah, either – and yet both were played in full. Better Man was a massive hit in Australia, yet is only teased during an a capella medley at the tail-end of the show. Millennium, Supreme, Let Love Be Your Energy, even Monsoon – all snubbed. And for what? To make way for pointless covers of Land Of 1000 Dances, Don't Look Back In Anger, and (most egregious of all) You're The Voice?
Still – and there's always a “still” – you simply have to give the devil his due. Williams makes the daunting task of performing to a packed stadium look like easy work, simultaneously playing to the back rows while making them feel like they're right up against the crowd barrier. He's the entertainer – and tonight, same as every night, he's entertained.