Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Robbie Williams, Duran Duran, Nesian Mystik at Western Springs

By RUSSELL BAILLIE


They still like him down this way, even though he has a love-'em-and-leave-'em habit with the local womenfolk - sometimes in the middle of one concert, more of which later.

And despite last year's Escapology album having relatively stiffed in these parts compared with its predecessors.

And despite Williams having reached something akin to saturation point.

He might be the biggest pop star of our age, someone who can drag in 50,000-plus to Western Springs in a time when the appeal of most stadium acts is based on nostalgia.

But musically, it was hard to see from Saturday night's show how long he can sustain it. With a persona shorn of any remaining mystique, he certainly hasn't left himself much room for reinvention.

As a showman, Williams was brilliant - a performer of boundless energy and wit. While his between-songs interactions with the crowd were almost painfully self-aware, they topped many of the songs for sheer entertainment value.

Of course, the chap can sing with his great belting voice which recalls many a howler of years gone by - Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Rod Stewart - depending on which face he's pulling.

As a big show, it topped his Mt Smart efforts from two years ago with just about everything bigger than last time, including an expanded band, stage set and a troupe of buxom dancing gals who at times gave the show the appearance of what the inside of Tom Jones' imagination must look like.

But Williams really only had eyes for camera number one, making as much meaningful eye contact - all arched eyebrows and knowing winks - with its lens as with the front rows. But he did find time to bring young fan Kylie up on stage for a pash during Come Undone. How very tongue-in cheek. His in hers, that is.

Yes, he made some references to other, longer, flings with the locals and implied his rest of the weekend would be about trying to have another one.

But if he was crass and audacious, he was funny and sentimental too, picking out married couple Darren and Sarah in the front rows for special attention during his lighter-waver She's The One. It was a very "Awww ... " kind of moment.

There were others, however, more "aargh ... " Like his solo spot accompanying himself, badly, on acoustic guitar of Better Man and Nan's Song - an ode to his late grandma Betty and his only solo writing credit. Or the endless gonzo-pop of Me and My Monkey, complete with video of chimpanzee playing with a revolver (don't do it Bonzo, the song will be over soon, promise) and his take on Mr Bojangles, the only song from his Swing ... album, arguably one too many.

Into the encore, it was into a hilariously rousing Rock DJ then an arms-aloft Angels followed by a fireworks finale.

A great show. But as always, one that will be remembered for what Williams did or said, rather than what he sang.

Some five hours earlier, the very local Nesian Mystik showed the headliner another way of being in a boy band while retaining your musical dignity on a well-received brief set.

Then it was the reformed original line-up of Duran Duran who played in daylight perched out in front of Williams' velvet curtains.

Their sound was either a cunning reproduction of the sonically weedy 80s, or showed the band weren't allowed to use the full sound rig before the headliner, who admittedly later expressed his profound admiration for the pop veterans. ("You should have seen their set list. They had about 20 hits which everybody knows all the words to. I've only got about five.")

Those hits poured forth, from the Bond-theme opener A View To A Kill to the closing Rio, hitting all the big ones along the way.

But even with frontman Simon Le Bon getting physical - a kung fu kick there, a reinterpretation of his dance moves from the Wild Boys video there - it rarely fired into anything to suggest their time has come again.

At worst, they went right off their own memory lane into someone else's with a clumsy cover of Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel's White Lines - an early hip-hop song about the effects of cocaine, played by a band who might well sympathise with its sentiments but still sound silly doing it.

At best, they reminded they had some pretty ballads (Save a Prayer, the more recent Ordinary World and Come Undone) and some very big hits (Girls on Film, Notorious) that define the phrase "funky-in-an-80s-kind-of-way".

It might have worked better in a more intimate venue which might have allowed some atmosphere - and a lightshow to hide the advancing years.

But Duran Duran's set remained resolutely Planet Earth-bound.

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