When I realized that Robbie Williams' world tour is for an album called XXV, marking 25 years to his solo career, I almost couldn't believe it, and I felt pretty old.
But then I remembered that he was one of those artists who put out a song in honor of the year 2000 ("Millennium," which he did not sing on Thursday) and that the "Rock DJ" music video, in which he strips off all his clothes, then - terrifyingly - his skin and his organs until he's a dancing skeleton, was one of the first I saw on MTV as a tween.
What I'm saying is, Robbie Williams and I go way back. Maybe even 25 years back, though I really became a fan after moving to Israel as a teenager in the early 2000s, when he was ubiquitous on Galgalatz and MTV Europe.
Much of the crowd, however, seemed to be fans from his early days as a member of the boy band Take That. (That’s my subtle way of saying I no longer felt old once I saw everyone else there.)
Williams looked back on his career, telling stories at different points of the show. As he reminded the audience, Take That’s first single came out in 1990, the year after the Berlin Wall fell and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. He was 17, and filmed a music video - that he showed us - in which a woman rubbed jello on his naked bum, as they say in the UK. He stopped the video at that very moment, and just let that image linger for a while, as he cracked jokes about how ridiculous boy bands are and talked about his band-mates firing him.
That particular part of his body was somewhat of a recurring bit, which makes sense, seeing as he’s never been shy about it.
“Allow me to reintroduce myself,” he said soon after the concert began. “I’m Robbie Williams. This is my band. This is my a**. Yalla balagan!”
Williams sang most of his biggest hits, from “Let Me Entertain You” at the top to “Angels” as the finale, and a cover of fellow British 90s sensations Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger” in the middle, dancing around the stage in gold pants and a sequined and bejeweled top for most of the night.
He was backed by multiple dancers and singers and a live band, and brought in Israeli singer Noga Erez for Kylie Minogue’s parts of “Kids.” As befitting a look back at his career, he had visual callbacks to his music videos on the screens behind him.
The show was replete with the typical Robbie Williams cheekiness - and that is not a pun about his butt. The banter was practically non-stop and as much a part of the experience as the music.
To be an entertainer, “you need to love your audience. In the 90s, I tried to love you all individually,” he quipped.
Williams, who’s in his silver fox phase with a head of grey hair, also joked a lot about his age, 49. When he needed to sit down, he said: “I’m not old; I have long COVID!” His fans, he said, “want to mother me. They want to make sure my back doesn’t hurt and that I’ve eaten enough.”
“Sex. Remember what that was?” he asked at one point.
Robbie Wiliams shares his fondness for Israel
Williams, who is married to a Jewish woman and has four Jewish children, as he noted, also had quite a bit to say about his totally apolitical fondness Israel.
Before his previous concert in Israel eight years ago, he already made it clear that he won’t be cowed by Roger Waters and the BDS hordes.
During the concert, he made it clear that he is not just against a boycott, but he really loves being in Israel.
“You have something incredibly f***ing special here,” Williams said. “There is a peace here I don’t feel in London, I don’t feel in Los Angeles. Considering that, as a people you have so much going on, there was a calm and a sincerity. I felt you, I know who you are, I know how you are and you mean an awful lot to me.”
Williams showed off a tattoo that says “simcha,” happiness, in Hebrew letters, and said it was his way of showing respect to his family’s Jewish traditions. (Never mind that tattoos go against Jewish tradition.)
“I’m grateful to you, just as a people. God bless you,” he said.
Then he went back to making a balagan, with the rapt audience singing along to every word.