All the gigs of my life: Gig 26 – Robbie Williams, Friday, October 17, 1997, Hammersmith Palais

A glorious second night from Robbie at the Palais. And my last Robbie Williams gig for 20 years.

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“At one point Bob said “was anyone here last night? it was shit wasn’t it??” Well no, but we could see what he meant.”

On this Friday night in October 1997, I was at my fourth gig in seven days. My first ever Robbie gig, the night before, had been a joy, but this second night was something else entirely. From my diary:

“This gig was a revelation. Though Thursday had been perfectly great, it never ignited into the gleaming pop glory that Friday night exploded with from the very first glimpse of Bob. The crowd, though hardly free from the teen scream element, was also sprinkled with older student types and yes! even blokes! The atmosphere was 100% improved.”

I was about ten or so rows back this time, as I’d only turned up at the venue at about five to seven, but that mattered little. Robbie began, as ever, with “Let Me Entertain You” before blasting through an album’s worth of already classic tunes.

” “Let Me Entertain You” was storming, “Lazy Days” blasted us into a swoon, “Average B-Side” was simply glorious, “Clean” prompted the first pogo frenzy for the evening. Of which there were many. There was almost real moshing taking place, but that was quite fine considering the lack of beery Castblokes.”

And Robbie was, of course, nothing short of maximum Robbie.

“Bob was in extremely fine bravado bragging form last night. “Can you believe” he exclaimed at one point “that there are people sitting at the bar and NOT WATCHING ME??!” The crowd roared its disapproval. “Tell them what you think of them! Booo!” he intoned darkly and we all followed suit. It was a thrill and perhaps something of a shock, after a year of indie gigging, to be witnessing a performer who really is a Performer, a Personality, an exuberant, exhilarated and exhilarating Star completely unhindered by indie reserve. He danced and swivelled about the stage and Jesus-posed and incited us into ever more rabid cheers. How do you describe Bob?? He is just BOB!”

With such a titanic personality, the whirlwind pop presence at centre stage often overpowered the actual songs that were being played.

“And that my friends is no mean feat, for when you could actually concentrate on the swaying majesty of “Killing Me” or the joyous wickedry of “Ego A Go Go” you soon realise that each and every one of his songs is BORN to be played live. His closing cover of Primal Scream’s “Rocks” was incredibly telling, for it sounded immensely weedy in comparison to Bob’s own rocks-off anthems like “She Makes Me High” and “Teenage Millionaire” which at least one member of the audience moshed non-stop through though she was considerably knackered due to being at her fourth gig for the week.”

Despite the bravado and occasional scream-at-me!!! arrogance of his on-stage persona, it was clear that he really was thoroughly moved at the tidal waves of love and adoration bombarding him from the crowd.

“And it turn it was very moving to witness him being so moved. There must have been a time when he feared all this was lost to him forever, that nobody loved him anymore. It really hit home to me last night, that after everything he’s been through, his surely unfathomably painful departure from TT, his descent into debauchery and addiction, his rehab, depressions, ill-advised publicity stunts, he has overcome all that to become the brilliant brilliant pop star he was always meant to be. And he can only continue to get ever more dazzling.”

The encore saw Robbie storming back out after with his t-shirt only half on, “letting us all scream at his chest as he pulls it on. “So Sue Me” it proclaims, “Everyone Else Is”. The full brilliant lunacy of witnessing Robbie Williams torturing “Back For Good” came next, undoubtedly one of my most glorious gig moments ever, and “Old Before I Die” was utterly fantastic live, despite the fact that Bob declined to sing most of it in favour of encouraging us to shrilly shriek the words.”

“Old Before I Die”, Robbie’s first original solo single, had not impressed me on first listening, sounding as it like a substandard Oasis B-side. However, after the triumph of “Life Thru A Lens” and these gigs, I had changed my mind on the matter.

“Here’s an irony: when this song came out I worried that Bob was going to make a career out of Oasis B sides, and now he’s released an album that’s at least 10 times better than “Be Here Now”. In fact 90% of the new Oasis tunes aren’t even as good as “Old Before I Die”! Bob is the pop star the world’s been crying out for.”

So, after such a glorious couple of gigs, why did it take me 20 years to see Robbie again? By the time 1998 and Robbie’s next tour came around, my joy of music and of life in general had seriously dwindled. And somehow, when his fame rocketed to the stratospheric levels it was to achieve very shortly after these Palais gigs, I no longer felt a part of the gang. Also, I didn’t feel comfortable going to stadium gigs, which was where Robbie’s success had brought him. To this day, I have only ever been to gigs at stadiums twice: for Oasis in 2000, and for, finally, my third Robbie gig, in June 2017.

But all that was far in the future as I made my way home from the Palais. “I weaved my way out of the crowd, bought a poster outside, and came back here to be accused of having “been out boozing” by Michelle across the hall. I watched Mark Owen being very articulate and interesting about life in and out of TT on TFI Friday. And I pondered the possibility that a bloke from Stoke had finally restored to me my lust for London.” 

In October 1997 I’d been wavering mightily about staying in London, as I had a ticket home to Perth ready and waiting for me which expired at the end of November. It had taken me a whole week of gigs, two from Mansun, two from Robbie, to finally realise that this London life was not one I could give up.

And while this wasn’t the last time I would waver, it was also definitely not last time I’d be convinced to stay in London by a storming gig from one of my musical faves.

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