Williams, Robbie : London Royal Albert Hall

How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall? We don't know, but this pastichey emotional void seemed to manage it pretty well.

This isn't rock'n'roll. Or even a normal Robbie Williams gig. NME is in the Albert Hall, cut almost in two by an ill-fitting tuxedo. The price on our ticket is a disgraceful #175. Two enormous, illuminated letters, 'R' and 'W', flank a black staircase upon which is arranged a 50-piece orchestra. Cameramen swirl around - the whole thing is being filmed for a BBC special. Suddenly, Rupert Everett appears on a balcony. As the compere, he offers the nearest we get to an explanation for this peculiar event, claiming that all along, "the beat that beat in the heart of Robbie Williams was the beat of swing music".

Before the audience has chance to ponder this dubious statement, the orchestra strikes up and Robbie races down the staircase looking sleekly handsome in a black suit and fat glittery tie, before setting about 'Have You Met Miss Jones?'. Singing with an even broader American accent than normal, Robbie proves to have zero power of interpretation but at least he hits all the notes. Pausing to greet a troupe of dancers wearing the world's most unflattering outfits (topped off with what appear to be Ned Kelly-style buckets on their heads), Robbie lays into 'Mack The Knife'. Then 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' is introduced with the war cry, "Let's get butt-naked and fucked up on drugs!" (No need - this night is like being on drugs.)

Robbie's actual life, as opposed to his Vegas fantasy, finally intrudes on 'The Lady Is A Tramp', dedicated to "my last three girlfriends" and featuring the amended lyrics "She's broke, but that's coke". Robbie's flatmate Jonathan Wilkes is brought on to duet with him on 'Me And My Shadow' (what is this, 'Songs For Swinging Losers'?), then Robbie performs a macabre duet with Frank Sinatra's video image on 'It Was A Very Good Year'.

The evening ends with a rendition of 'My Way'. As Robbie lovingly caresses every callous, soul-sapping word to a standing ovation, NME longs for the ghost of Sid Vicious to come down and blow away the reverence with his definitive punk version, before laying about him with his revolver à la 'The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle'. How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall? We don't know, but this pastichey emotional void seemed to manage it pretty well.

Alex Needham

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