In the only place <I>not</I> to raise the "sold out" sign within hours of tickets going on sale, Robbie Williams lit a spark under his 2006 world tour with a show in the coastal city of Durban that le

In the only place not to raise the "sold out" sign within hours of tickets going on sale, Robbie Williams lit a spark under his 2006 world tour with a show in the coastal city of Durban that left the 42,000-strong crowd smitten.

The opening salvo in Williams' global campaign to prove that while he may not have conquered America (that's being left to James Blunt's soft rock), he's damn well king of the pop world just about everywhere else was a two-hour lesson in how to entertain a massed crowd.

From the second Williams' popped up in a blaze of lights at the end of the ramp jutting into the crowd (it involved some understage traveling, a trapdoor and an artist with a sense of adventure), he proved that balancing showmanship with songcraft and English blokeness is a combination that earns you fans for life.

Dressed in jeans and a long coat for most of the show (the only costume change involved pulling on an unspectacular tracksuit a few songs before the end) Williams' ran through a 20-song set that pulled in all his hits, along with a nod to his boy band roots and an exceedingly smart version of the Las' "There She Goes."

The former came nine songs into Williams' set and was a not-so-subtle dig at his Take That cohorts' decision to reform for a one-off show. Before performing (and, in the beginning forgetting the words to) the group's 1995 U.K. No. 1 hit, "Back for Good," Williams asked, "Who's going to sing 'Everything Changes But You?'" in reference to his lines in Take That's other huge hit, "Everything Changes."

Sarcastic Williams' may have been about Take That's attempt to surge back into the spotlight, for the most part his between song banter was light-hearted, self-deprecating, funny and endearing. Taking advantage of his English-speaking audience, he chatted almost as much as he sang, telling the audience they were "the loudest crowd on this tour ... Hang on, this is the opening night of the tour" and asking if they were enjoying being at the show of the "third top entertainer in the world."

Mugging for the crowd and the on-stage camera frequently, Williams' seemed to relish the experience of being back in the live arena, even though his voice veered between being slightly (though no less likeable) off-key to totally on form. After "Come Undone" he glanced down at his set list and described the rest of the show as "brilliant. I'm excited myself just looking at it."

Until that point the highlights of the set had been a version of "Trippin,'" which saw Williams segue into Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," the revivalist gospel-inspired "Millennium" and "Come Undone," a tender song of recovery that saw Williams add in a snippet of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."

But it was the last seven songs that revealed Williams' considerable ability to shift the material out of the decent and into something that easily transported those in the audience. From the heartfelt "Feel" to "Crash," "Kids" and "Pure," it was a short slide into the trio of songs that many fans had waited for all evening. "Entertain," "Strong" and "Angels" all found a mass of willing singalong and lighter-waving fans in the Durban crowd.

Williams' left the stadium as quickly as he'd arrived, heading on to Cape Town, then Pretoria before a slew of global dates take him to millions around the world.

Here is Robbie Williams' set list:

"Radio"
"Rock DJ"
"Trippin"
"Monsoon"
"Sin, Sin, Sin"
"Love Supreme"
"Trouble"
"Millennium"
"Back for Good"
"Advertising"
"There She Goes"
"Ghosts"
"Come Undone"
"Feel"
"Crash"
"Kids"
"Pure"

Encore:
"Entertain"
"Strong"
"Angels"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print