Overtime, Robbie Williams has become a family favourite household name but he wasn’t always as such.
Launching in the music industry at the tender age of 16, Williams was a member of the British boy group Take That back in 1990, until they parted ways in 1995. Not long after, he embarked on a hugely successful solo career. Struggling internally, the history of Robbie Williams’ is known, as ‘Angels’ not only saved his career, but also – him.
Returning to Melbourne, Australia after filming his biopic across the road at Rod Laver Arena only last year and performing at the 2022 AFL Grand Final held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (also just across the road), Williams took to the AAMI Park stage as part of his XXV Australian Tour 2023: 25 Years of Hits.
Admittedly, this was my first-time seeing Robbie Williams live in concert. Having grown up listening to his music, I was excited to witness these songs and the man in person. What I didn’t expect to see was how commanding Williams’ stage presence would be.
Nobody commands an audience like Robbie Williams can. The entire venue suddenly came to life the moment Williams emerged from the shadows. Following his every word, the Melbourne crowd willing waved their arms in the air, fist pumped into the sky, sung along like the world’s largest karaoke night, clapped together, and screamed in unison whenever Williams would call for it. The crowd were keen and obeyed every request from the ultimate entertainer. While every second of these moments were fantastic to witness, I found equal if not more joy from Williams when took the time to speak to the audience.
Plucking a lucky few to speak to personally at the barrier including a lucky gentleman named Marc and his daughter Sabine, Williams provided raw and confronting moments of clarity which actually were my favourite parts of the night. Chatting to fans like they were long lost friends reunited over one festive evening, for many die-hard fans, these stories may not be anything new. For the uninitiated, these stories made for a deep, personal, educational, and sometimes haunting experience. However, those like me that fell in between, it felt like story time with Uncle Robbie.
Robbie Williams is surprisingly super funny, is the perfect combination of cocky and humble, and he has every right to be. Williams has essentially dived to the edge of death and survived, multiple times. Without fear, Williams lightly touches on these during the concert as well. Greeting the Melbourne audience whilst plugging his recent self-titled four-part Netflix documentary series, Robbie Williams gleefully shared while grinning from ear to ear that, “The man you are seeing in front of you tonight is the happiest I’ve ever been”. After watching that specific documentary series and seeing the man himself before my eyes, I believed him.
Previously resorting to alcohol and drugs in what feels like a past life now, Robbie Williams shared that he’s now happily married with four kids and is 24 years sober, evident that this version of Williams is the best version of himself, and is the best version of the musician that money can buy tickets for.
Williams’ journey that we were all riding through together made me want to both laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Although briefly pausing to acknowledge his dark past, the relief and spoiler of these tales is that he “fucking got through it”, evident as the showman was beaming and standing before us, eager to entertain us for the night.
Checking that he was “amongst friends”, Williams took the Melbourne venue on a rollercoaster journey through his 33 years in the industry. His Take That era segment was funny and made for a lot of uncomfortable and awkward moments, but they’re meant to be. This was a time where Williams was not happy. Singing ‘Back For Good’, Robbie Williams took a moment to crow “Fucking nostalgia!” which made for a hilarious moment.
When he wasn’t reflecting on his past, Robbie Williams was charming his audience, pleasing his fans, noticing those that travelled from overseas to see him, whilst expertly plugging his tour merchandise at the same time and dedicating songs to them (the fans, not the merch). This included two lucky ladies that gushed over Williams’ presence which was followed by ‘She’s the One’ (although, the song was dedicated to the both of them), and ‘Angels’ which had Williams dedicating a song to a fan that tragically lost their life after the recent Sydney concert. I was surprised when I learnt about the unfortunate death at the concert. Not only was it the first time I had heard about it but nobody should be dying at concert, especially not in Australia.
Throughout the night that the evolution of Robbie Williams’ career is revisited, his music transcended into a much happier and brighter place the more that he sung. His songwriting also appeared to mature along the way, evident in his lyrics. These songs included ‘Let Me Entertain You’ which had the audience eating out of the palm of Robbie Williams’ hand from the get-go, Oasis cover ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that had Williams crooning the beloved song while standing and swaying in the style of Liam Gallagher, ‘Candy’ which had people on the floor up on shoulders to appear taller as they tried to grab Williams’ attention so he would throw them t-shirts, ‘Love My Life’ which felt thoroughly cathartic, ‘Better Man’ which was so much fun and beautiful to sing along and listen to, ‘Feel’ that had the AAMI Park stadium intimately lit in shades of blue as Williams stood still with a microphone stand while lasers pierced the darkness, ‘Kids’ which had patrons even in the stands bouncing around, and ‘Rock DJ’ that had everyone dancing and punching their arms into the air.
However, the highlights of the night were the special songs and gestures saved for the encore. Singing John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’, Robbie Williams returned to the stage for his final numbers wearing an Australian cricket team t-shirt, quickly turning around to reveal the late and great Shane Warne’s surname and the number ‘23’. Transforming the entire AAMI Park Melbourne audience into his own personal choir, everyone’s voices combined to sing-along to this unofficial Australian anthem and although Williams doesn’t stop to mention Farnham’s name, his respect for Australian music legend was obvious.
At the end of the song, Williams had the Melbourne venue chanting “Warney” out of respect to the famous cricket legend. Gesturing up to the night sky as if to speak to Shane Warne directly, Robbie Williams stated, “God bless you, brother”. During his most iconic song, ‘Angels’, the Melbourne audience lit the venue up with their phone lights, universally creating a blanket of man-made stars. When we collectively sung along to the lyrics, it all felt surreal and surprisingly very healing.
Before providing fans with his last songs, Robbie Williams acknowledged his past struggles once more, humbly and profusely expressing his gratitude to all those that had dedicatedly supported him through the years. Serenading his loving audience while they serenaded him right back, the final songs of the night were delivered by our unaccompanied voices. Robbie Williams touched on the choruses of some of his greatest songs already sung throughout the night, and left the Melbourne audience passionately singing the lyrics to ‘Better Man’ as he quickly disappeared from the stage as elusively as he arrived.
I felt very moved by Robbie Williams’ presence every moment that he was on the Melbourne stage and was happy for him to have made it through his many past demons. I also adored how openly and clearly he spoke about everything. Unashamed to drop profanity along the way during his stories, I appreciated how honest and fearless he was, especially about his anxiety and mental health which many can relate to. When singing, Williams showed off his excellent powerful vocals whilst he oozed an infectious charisma that appeared to come naturally to him.
With so much heart, Robbie Williams is superbly entertaining, resilient as hell, and is fucking fantastic live. Despite being in a stadium, everything felt real and personal. I dare say, Robbie Williams is one of the greatest showmen of our time and it was an honour and a privilege to finally see him live.
Robbie Williams is touring Australia as part of his XXV Australian Tour 2023: 25 Years of Hits and performed in Melbourne on Wednesday November 22nd at AAMI Park. Robbie Williams has one more Melbourne concert tonight.
For more information on Robbie Williams, and ticketing for the rest of his tour, visit:
Photography by Brett Schewitz.