This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Despite hosting sets from from Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, it’s arguable that the most anticipated day of 2019’s instalment of Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival was its last. Sunday 14th July – and perhaps the event in its entirety – belonged to one man: the self described Robbie Fucking Williams.
Robbie is synonymous with having the biggest possible laugh in all circumstances, even when it is actually not that appropriate (remember when he filmed himself singing during his wife’s literal labour?). This was the energy which fuelled a rat-arsed crowd who, in between screaming along tunelessly to “Millennium”, fell off their mates’ shoulders and sloppily drank pints of Dark Fruits, all the while conducted by the manic energy of a man from Stoke on Trent with half his hair shaved off.
In order to capture this momentous occasion in the canon of Having a Brilliant Time, we went along as global experts to rate the proceedings:
I don’t know if you saw the news item this week about the man who was arrested for attempting to smuggle half a kilo of cocaine into Spain by gluing it to his head and covering it with a toupee, but that just about begins to approximate the vibe of a Robbie Williams show.
There were two dominant emotions present, pushing against each other like tectonic plates. There was hope, and there was determination. A great appreciation for Robbie’s bops colliding with an even greater appreciation for drinking eight pints of cider and punching the air like it just said something derogatory about your sister. Befitting the football motif of his early solo career, the air was buzzing with “it’s coming home” energy – only this time it wasn’t football, it was Robbie, swaggering on stage with the bravado of someone who successfully made it through customs with an arse full of drugs to reclaim his title of England’s Greatest Living Legend.
Mams, mams, mams as far as the eye can see. These are the most loyal fans, for they have been on the frontlines since the early years of Take That, when they rightly acknowledged Robbie – with his Joey Tribbiani curtains and leather jackets – as a symbol of great sexual prowess, while their children (whom boy/girl bands were largely considered “for” at the time) merely responded enthusiastically to the trumpet sections. Mams, then, were the most notable demographic, and rightfully dominated the scene with their Nice Tops, large sunglasses and multiple bottles of £25 white wine.
Also present were dads, for whom Robbie occupies the role of ‘pisshead’s Michael Bublé’, sitting somewhere between Tom Chaplin and Liam Gallagher on the scale of Vocalists Whose Emotionally Reflective Lyricism Safely Allows Straight Men To Feel. Then, of course, there were the lads – who threw their heads back, their arms around each other and their pints in the air during, and later fired off a heartfelt tweet about how Robbie has inspired them to give up the gak and sort their life out.
And finally, there were the general 20-somethings – the aforementioned children – who have grown up to adopt “Angels” as their end-of-sesh anthem and insist on showing appreciation by screeching “DADDY" over every bit of stage banter, absolutely destroying the ambience for everyone involved. On that note, to anyone stood behind us, we're deeply sorry.
The thing about this Robbie Williams concert is that it taught me that a Robbie Williams concert is actually just an opportunity for Robbie Williams, the man, to go on an absolutely enormous stage and prick about for an hour and 45 minutes, changing blazers about seven times (the highlights, you ask? A multi-coloured stripe number, and the black one with silver sequins he emerged in) and forcing his band to perform an acapella version of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” (inc. rap) with him. The thing about this Robbie Williams concert, then, is that it taught me exactly what a concert should be.
Crowd pleasing was, of course, top of the agenda (which was no doubt fastened, somewhere in the wings, to a rhinestoned clipboard). Over the course of his set, Robbie, having asked the crowd if they were ready “to worship at the altar of light entertainment” (yes, yes, and thrice an enraptured yes!), played 22 glorious songs. Six of those songs were covers, and one involved him bringing his dad on for “Sweet Caroline,” the Our Father of piss ups everywhere. The rest were selected cuts from over the course of Robbie’s 30-year career.
It’s easy to write Robbie off as a novelty these days (see: the song “Candy,” the X Factor thing) but for a period in the 1990s and 2000s, he was a genuinely representative voice of masculinity, whose lyrics grappled with existential questions and the all-but-necessary excesses of being a young man in Britain. Though “Strong” was sadly omitted, a few tracks on the setlist, like “Come Undone” and “Old Before I Die” harked back to that time, and when he played “Feel,” with its “I don’t wanna die / But I ain’t keen on living either” lyric (cue: every 20-something I was stood near muttering “fucking mood”), it was easy to remember the potency he had as a figure many years ago, and is still able to conjure when he has a go.
"ROCK DJ": A TREATISE
Lots of people think that “Angels” is the quintessential Robbie Williams song and, hearing it belted out by thousands of London’s most drunk as the sun set on Hyde Park and Robbie asked everyone to “be upstanding for the national anthem”, they would have a point.
But I’d also like to offer an alternative view. I would like to make the case for “Rock DJ”. While “Angels” has a sloppy, end of the night snog vibe, “Rock DJ” is a better representation of all the things Robbie ultimately stands for. Robbie is bravado; Robbie is thinly veiled innuendo; he is that little hand movement you do when you turn your fingers in on your palms repeatedly, the international shorthand for “give us a bit then”.
No song captures his essence in a more purely distilled manner than “Rock DJ” – a song which is not so much about partying and shagging as it actually is partying and shagging incarnate – with its bumping bass line that all but forces you to contort your face into the resting expression of a Gallagher brother. Also, lest we forget, “Rock DJ” has a music video where Robbie Williams literally rips his skin off his body and then keeps dancing, and what could be more Robbie than that?
From testing a woman in the front row on how well she knew his lyrics before allowing her to cop a free t-shirt, to teasing the intro for “YMCA” before going “nah, I’m Robbie fucking Williams”, to doing a lengthy call-and-response with the crowd that featured Freddy Mercury’s iconic “ayo” from Live Aid 1986, there was quite simply no beginning or end to the audacity of this performance. Give the man a Tony immediately, for this was the greatest piece of theatre I have ever witnessed.
So rarely, these days, do you see someone Smash It to such a high and palpable degree. So rarely does it feel as though the stars – man, mood and moment – align to create such pure, concentrated entertainment.
This is Robbie’s world, we’re just living in it.