18 Oct 2018
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Gig Review: Robbie Williams with Tami Neilson @ Spark Arena, Auckland 14/02/2018

15 Feb 2018 // A review by Alex Moulton

Spark Arena has been completely changed since last night’s Paramore concert, now utilising the full arena space, and with additional stage pieces running down the centre of the Standing Floor area, the air is full of anticipation in what looks to be an immersive experience.

The only opening act for the night came in the form of Tami Neilson, a country & soul singer/songwriter, and Silver Scroll winner. Performing her material on stage with her rhythm band, she performs an odd assortment of set material. Despite gaining some movement as they warm up, the group remain largely stationary throughout their performance; an aspect that gets multiplied by the size of the stage in the arena. Neilson’s voice is exemplary, varied, well-projected, powerful, and you can’t help but be impressed with her vocal talents. However, the performance overall felt out of place, with a rhythm section that looks and sounds like it is holding back; such as drumming with hands as opposed to drumsticks for a fair proportion of the set. It created a disconnect between the power of the vocals and the accompanying rhythm and instrumental melodies. Neilson as an individual is a woman of many talents; incorporating yodel-like vocal components, playing the harmonica herself, and putting forward some very relatable and hilarious banter. Singing in a style that fits well with the theme song of a James Bond film, but wasn’t enough to get the crowd suitably warmed up.

That being said, when you are opening for the likes of Robbie Williams, it is a large shadow to try shine through, and Robbie doesn’t ease into his performance; full throttle right from the get-go. Robbie Williams is well aware of his own checkered past, and deals with it in the most appropriate way possible; humour. Before even coming out on stage, the crowd is treated to the National Anthem of Robbie, a short biographical piece that touches on his battles with drugs and alcohol, sexual orientation, his inability to capture the US market, before the show begins. With grand gestures much like a professional fight, Robbie is announced, and he takes to the stage, with a number of dancers fitted in fighting garb, completing their choreographed moves about the stage. The lights, backing screen, lasers, dancers, backup vocalists, and musical team, are all immense. The scale of the show is unbelievable, and a thrill to witness. The video screen that takes up the wall behind the stage, on its own is a masterpiece, creating compositions of imagery with live feeds of the show as it happens as if creating music videos for each track, unique to this show.

Above and beyond the visual aesthetics of the show, Robbie Williams oozes with charisma and confidence, able to pull off classics such as Minnie the Moocher while wearing a kilt and singlet. Taking the time to read the signs that the audience has made, and including the audience at every step, there is no part of him that comes across as unlikable. Bringing an audience member on stage from the VIP standing floor area, for a touching performance of Something Stupid upon a park bench, emotions are barely contained, and he takes the time to listen to her, and comfort her, even allowing her to record and live stream the song he was directing at her. The night was full of personal moments, and it brings the crowd closer to Robbie. After one story about watching his father perform as a singer and comedian when he was a child, he then brings his father out on stage for a duet of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.

Testing the age of the audience by encouraging them to sing along with a number of nostalgic songs, and performing a number of covers, one could look at the set list and be surprised at how many non-Robbie Williams song that are included, but that is part of the appeal; the crowd is here for the person, not just the singles and hits. Millennium, Better Man, and She’s the One were all well received, with a sea of arms raised, voices chanting along, and phone torches lit, but so was his rendition of My Way, and his touching tribute to George Michael, performing Freedom. Almost too much to take in, the show appeals on so many levels, with so many aspects occurring simultaneously, that there is no chance for boredom to creep in.

The man is all smiles for the entire night, taking in every smile and wave, soaking up every lyric that the crowd belts back, joining in with the dancer’s choreography, allowing interactions with people, the entire experience is a positive one. Not overly scripted and wooden, but maintaining its professionalism while having adaptability and a jovial atmosphere. One of the more extensive and elaborate setups I have ever come across in New Zealand, and if tonight’s encore performance of Angels was anything to go by, Robbie Williams’ upcoming Dunedin show on Saturday night is going to leave a lasting impact on the southerners.


Review written by Alex Moulton

 

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