ROBBIE DAZZLER!

ROBBIE WILLIAMS wants to entertain us... and who is SIMON WILLIAMS to stand in the way of the Manchester madness?

Robbie Williams

Manchester Apollo

There is a twat onstage. Some bug-eyed goon with a gormless grin and a succession of daft, look-at-me-bum poses. Look at him as he prances across the stage from left to right. Laugh at him as he scampers back across the stage, from right to left. Ridicule him, as he minces around like that profoundly spoilt little shit at the family wedding. Pity him, for he is Robbie Williams. And he is the fool on the Pils.

“What are you doing in me garden?” he squeals in mock horror at one point as he twigs the screaming thousands out front. “Where’s me Barlow?!” he may as well quip at several other points, as his old-school style of performance hits levels of campness not witnessed since ‘Seaside Big Hairy Cock Special’ circa 1975.

True, he hasn’t got his fist up a green duck’s arse, but to all intents and purposes Robbie Williams is the all-round entertainer, bar none. None of this would matter, of course, if Rozza had never strayed from the straight and narrow once the Take That fagade started crumbling. Fate had his future mapped out as a no-willied MOR wanker to such a degree that by now Robbie Williams should be Philip ‘Pip’ Schofield’s arse and appearing at Hammersmith Labatt’s with Darren Day in a tragically long-running farce. Sadly, El Robster instead pissed off to Glastonbury in a champers-filled Jag and promptly changed the course of history as anyone knows it.

Now, having spent the past two years seemingly bouncing in and out of rehab like an amphetamine sulphate-crazed yo-yo, we are witness to the latest cleaned-up, slimmed-down, you-spin-me-around-like-a-sex-fiend Robert. And he’s great. You heard. The fact that ‘Angels’ has been in the charts for months has certainly helped the Williams popularity cause – this audience is totally hysterical, but infinitely more mature than the Spice Girls’ screechers. However, instead of plumping for the obvious smoochy angle in the nation’s plumpy-arsed seated arenas, Robbie Williams has mastered that trickiest of tricks – he has become the Lad With The Ballads.

So on one hand he dedicates ‘One Of God’s Better Children’ to his mum and his sister, and plays the weepy, acoustic card. Then El Robster and his five-piece band are squirming through the indie-tastic anthem ‘There She Goes’, with added kudos from drummer Chris Sharrock, who was actually in The La’s for five minutes in between playing with The Icicle Works, World Party and The Lightning Seeds. Amazingly, after at least a decade-and-a-half in the wrinkle-friendly rock’n’roll industry, Sharrock still looks 12 years old. And if he hangs out much more with Robbie he’ll be wearing big shorts and playing marbles on the tourbus by the time the year’s out, such is the obvious youthful joy surging through the band.

It’s not all insane sonic mayhem, obviously. Patches of the ‘Life Thru A Lens’ album have not worn tremendously well over the past year, as evinced by the odd post-post-fucking-past-it burst of plinky-plonking Britpop activity tonight, which possibly reaches its nadir with ‘Angels’ B-side ‘Get The Joke’, which dares to namecheck pseudo-operatic ’60s gulper Cleo Laine (see what we said about ‘entertainment’?). Yet when Robbie is good, he is very, very good. Relentlessly upbeat, recklessly dressed in all-white and at all times ragingly effervescent, he is on spectacularly fine form when hanging with the musical likes of ‘Killing Me’.

Better still, the climax of the live Meeester Robbie experience arrives during the encores when he piles through ‘Angels’, the (still) incredible hardcore version of ‘Back For Good’ (never have small girls been seen in public weeping along and then pogoing during the same bloody song) and finally, just as he started the whole sordid affair, there is a seething run-through of ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Showbusiness-like to the very end, then. Obviously, less is Barrymore.

Simon Williams