Sunday, May 03, 2015

Robbie Williams live at Park Hayarkon,T.A.

These "first time in Israel!" shows sometimes backfire.  It happened at this somewhat infamous stadium show six years ago, and it happened last night with Robbie Williams in Ganne Yehoshua park.  Casual fans get drawn in by the blanket advertising and curiosity factor, show up to the concert, and wait to be entertained.  I went to far too many shows in Toronto in small venues where half the crowd thought they were too cool to wander more than a three metre distance from the bar.  It's a much more frustrating scene when you multiply it by one hundred and let people loose in a large grassy field.

I arrived too late to hear Ninet Tayeb's set, save for a few songs I heard from outside the park while on my way in.  A huge crowd of about 40 000 strong were ready for Robbie Williams to finally hit the stage after months of hype.  They were ready to record their favourite bits and post them on the internet as soon as possible.  Being there -- and having proof of the fact -- was arguably more important that being familiar with most of Robbie Williams' biggest hits and showing up ready to enjoy oneself.  

The focus of his current tour, which ended last night, was to bring his show to a number of relatively out of the way places that are off the regular touring track for many artists (UAE, Slovakia, Latvia).  His sets were chock full of his most memorable hits, with virtually no glaring omissions, and if those weren't enough hits for getting your money's worth, they were also chock full of covers of megahits by Queen ("Bohemian Rhapsody"), Lorde ("Royals"), R. Kelly (a slick barbershop quintet version of "Ignition (Remix)" and a handful of others.  He has more than enough original material to fill up a two hour set, but he includes the covers presumably because it encourages more audience participation, and what better way to fulfill his Freddie Mercury fantasies than by stealing straight from the source?

Yes, the Robbie Williams Revue tries to deliver something for everyone.  As great as it was, and as powerful a performer as Williams is, perhaps it wasn't the best idea in the world to watch his 2003 Knebworth DVD the night before, because he couldn't possibly live up to the standard, and neither could the Tel Aviv crowd.  But that's OK, because it's nearly an impossible standard to live up to.  The most amazing thing about those Knebworth shows is that they're nearly all about him.  His band is great, of course, they're admirable performers. But there are an unfathomably small amount of bells and whistles included in the show (dancers, outlandish video screens, costume changes) that are standard issue for nearly any other artist trying to entertain such a large crowd.  The crowd are locked with precision onto the songs and locked onto him -- transfixed by every word he says, and every move he makes.  Those concerts are completely driven by Williams' mercurial (no pun intended) strength as a performer.  Robbie in 2015 puts together a slick, professional band that executes the game plan perfectly.  Robbie in 2003 seemed to be making it all up as he went along.  His band would reign him in and help keep the show on the rails.  Seeing how he hardly rehearsed for those Knebworth shows, this was quite a formidable task.

In transitioning from pop star to band leader, something inevitably got lost in translation.  My favourite parts of the concert were therefore the looser, more laid back moments where Williams showed off the songs and his connection to them, rather than trying to overdeliver a showcase for the ages.  "Strong" turned into a wonderfully spontaneous singalong, and "Come Undone" was stripped of its full-on maximalism to become something less confrontational and more contemplative.  "Feel" was simply gorgeous, just Robbie belting out the song while standing almost completely still with his hands raised in the air, while dozens of rays of soft green laser light slowly swept through the night air, in time with nothing in particular.  Duetting with his tuxedo clad father Peter on "Better Man" was another fantastically personal moment, a style clash that made total sense to anyone who has followed Robbie through his various musical guises.

It really was an amazing show, the set list was even filled with a few surprises that typically weren't part of other shows on the tour ("She's the One" played in full, "Strong").  It was missing a killer crowd to take it into the stratosphere, and Williams himself even said as much in a chat with fans on his website following the show.  If anyone knows how to read a crowd, and to fairly criticize its involvement, it's him.     

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