Robbie Williams lives up to hype

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 17, 1999

Robbie Williams wants to entertain you.

In the first five minutes of his sold-out show Friday night at Metro, the British export danced, glad-handed, grabbed his naughty bits, bared his bum and stuffed a fan’s mash note down his pants.

And then he lost his inhibition.

Definitely not shy, the latest “next big thing” assaulted the crowd of Anglophiles and lookyloos with a 75-minute concert that was turned up to 11 from the get go. And, surprisingly enough, Williams lived up to the hype.

He and his six-piece band strutted on stage as the theme to “Star Wars” blared. Just as it ended, they kicked into a spirited, bluesy version of “Let Me Entertain You.”

You wouldn’t know it from his sugary radio hit “Millennium,” or his past as one of the cutie pie members of the English boy band Take That, but the guy is influenced  more by punk and bar band rock than anything else.

To drive this point home, Williams sang Take That’s ballad “Back for Good.” But just as the audience started to sway to the soft ballad, he exploded into a punk-infused chorus that had the crowd pogoing like it was 1977. And as he came out of the chorus, he casually leaned against a red shovel that was inexplicably on stage, and crooned the rest of the song.

Williams’ debut American album–“The Ego Has Landed”–is a compilation of his previous two multi-platinum English records. But he knows that European stardom means little in America, where the streets are littered with the carcasses of gaunt English superstars (remember Pulp and Suede?) who registered little more than a blip here.

Onstage, Williams is a spaz. And a contradiction. He’s a self-effacing extrovert who’s funny, congenial and cocky. Unlike Oasis, which rarely treats its fans to encores, Williams appeared ready to return for more before he even left the stage.

“Just humor me,” he said. “You know I’m coming back.”

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