LIVE: Robbie Williams – Odyssey Arena, Belfast

thIt was the mid-nineties when Robbie Williams departed Take That, the boy band who achieved great success, to walk into the unknown alone. Did he predict that his first seven albums would each reach number one? I doubt it. I’d imagine he would just appreciate the level of control he now had over his own future, without management overlooking him and four other stars. The level of success rose to unprecedented levels with massive hits such as ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and ‘Rock DJ’ becoming solid anthems in British music history.

With the release of his latest albumSwings Both Ways, Robbie announced a run of shows to celebrate its release including two shows in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena. Within the show, it was well known throughout the crowd that Robbie would be due on stage at eight o’clock – plenty of time for a two-hour set and sitting back ready for England’s big World Cup kick-off in Brazil. Priorities set out clearly and many would agree with this football fanatic.

With thousands expecting the large curtain to fall to announce Williams’ arrival on stage, a figure instead rose from below the stage, back turned to the audience, and hand raisen in the air asking for Northern Ireland’s approval, which was generously given. The curtain fell exposing an impressive set with backing band, singers and dancers. ‘Shine My Shoes’ sparked dancing in the crowd along with a host of other famous tunes such as Dean Martin’s ‘Aint That a Kick in the Head’ and Cab Calloway’s ‘Minnie The Moocher’.

Aside from the splendid stage setup and incredible orchestra accompanying him, Robbie’s stage presence was that of an accomplished and confident performer. His years under the spotlight shone through with everything he was saying gaining loud cheers and screams from an audience, most all age-ranges. Elegantly describing himself as the 90s Justin Bieber, albeit a little overweight, he then (fat)suited up for ‘No-one Likes a Fat Pop Star’ elevating into the air, reminiscing of the times he spent dreaming of being aloft singing for an audience but regretting that of his crushed manhood due to the harness.

As the crowd’s anticipation grew for the Robbie Williams classics, he instead continued with tried and tested hits such as ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ and Frank Sintra’s ‘High Hopes’ , successfully earning him rapturous applause. ‘I Will Talk and Holywood Will Listen’ returned for Robbie’s loyal following before ‘Go Gentle’ was dedicated to his great friend Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, famous darts hero.

Despite no performances of the classic hits yet, the audience wasn’t dismayed as one of the fantastic backing vocalists belted out a superb introduction of Alicia Keys ‘Empire State of Mind’ before Williams continued with Liza Minnelli’s ‘New York, New York’ to the mass approval of the Odyssey crowd. Approaching the end of the night, Robbie then treated everyone to a subdued collective mix of Let Me Entertain You, Rock DJ, Millenium amongst others before ending the unusual rendition with Candy which Belfast certainly approved of before cutting it short like the previous – only offering snippets of the classics which disappointed this reviewer. The classics that Robbie Williams is known for performed, at maximum, thirty seconds apiece amongst other songs just wasn’t enough.

However that disappointment wasn’t to last long. Frank Sintra’s ‘My Way’ rose through into the set before an immaculate, and complete, version of ‘Angels’ had the Northern Irish crowds singing at the top of their voices with Robbie himself visually touched by the crowd’s participation. The one most people came for delivered – massively. It was the highlight of the night and whilst new song ‘Sensational’ finished the set, the penultimate anthem will never be forgotten.