Reviewed: Robbie Williams @ Phones 4u Arena, Manchester

It was only a year ago that Robbie Williams was headlining his Take The Crown stadium tour which featured zip wires, huge models of his own head and some classic pop songs. This summer however, more than a decade after the release of his original swing album ‘Swing When You’re Winning’, Robbie steps back into his tuxedo and takes the big band on the road again in support of his latest album ‘Swings Both Ways’.

Tonight, the Phones 4u Arena feels more like a theatre. Although the night begins with Williams alone on stage singing his self penned swing song ‘Shine My Shoes’, as the luxurious stage curtain lifts up to reveal a Great Gatsby style stage set filled with reams of dancers in top hat and tails, it’s clear that tonight is going to be all about glitz and glamour. After offering up a triple hit of swing classics, ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’ and ‘Minnie the Moocher’, Robbie takes some time to talk to the audience. Reminiscing about his days as a 90s pop star and, in his own words, an “overweight Justin Bieber” Robbie changes up his own early hit ‘Supreme’ giving it a swing sound.

Act One of the show is filled with fantastically bizarre moments. From the comically operatic ‘No One Likes a Fat Pop Star’ which sees Williams suspended above the stage in a fat suit to the brilliant barbershop rendition of R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’, the set is full of surprises. Perhaps most surreal however is seeing co-writer Guy Chambers come on stage to conduct a marriage ceremony between Robbie and a member of the audience. Whilst at time’s Williams may appear to be boarding on arrogance, the audience and crowd interaction remains a huge part of the show. Signing CD’s mid set and kissing one lucky fan, Robbie is ever the showman.

Moving on to Act Two the stage becomes a cruise ship and Robbie enters in his captain’s uniform to perform one of the more upbeat songs on his latest album, ‘Soda Pop’. Taking to the covers again, the energy continues as Robbie launches into a medley that includes ‘Hit the Road Jack’, ‘Reet Petite’ and ‘Shout’.

Although the big band covers of much celebrated songs are impressive, and fit the atmosphere of the evening, there are points where it’s clear that the audience yearn for the big pop songs. The crowd therefore erupts into cheers as the band start to sing ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and enter into a medley of some of Robbie’s biggest hits such as ‘Millennium’, ‘Come Undone’ and ‘Candy’.

Perhaps the biggest applause of the night however is reserved for the archetypal sing along track, ‘Angels’. As the fans take over the singing duties Robbie stands in awe of the crowd. With over 20 years in the business, whether he’s performing pop chart hits or swing ballads, Robbie Williams certainly doesn’t look tired of entertaining an audience just yet.

Robbie Williams is currently touring the UK – details and tickets are available here.