I am unashamedly a Robbie Williams fan, but I didn’t make it to Knebworth. But you had to be there to enjoy this album – as a record of the experience. Otherwise you are in danger of not being infected – or even affected – by this badly-recorded concert. Nearly everything on this disk is better recorded elsewhere, without the background teenage adulatory swoons and screams which sound like a cross between TV static and mice copulating.
Robbie is (as he knows) great theatre and above average noise, but the background scratching on vinyl is distracting, unless you were there. An exhilarating experience to be remembered fondly, if you were there – as Robbie himself admits, he’ll think of Knebworth the next time somebody writes something “shitty” about him in the tabloids.
He clearly relishes the experience, though there is more than a hint that his interaction with the audience is not spontaneous. “My name is Robbie Williams… You are about to witness the best show in the world now.” His party-piece opener, Let Me Entertain You, almost captures and relays the frisson of live performance – but it is largely through auditory trickery and syncopation (“Let me…enter…[whoops]…tain you”).
Robbie is a consummate performer, with a sexy appeal (to both sexes); so, we’re bound to wonder if it’s really necessary for him to shout “Come on!” and get the teenyboppers and their mums to sing along with Let Love Be Your Energy – or even more to interrupt himself with “I love you England – you look fucking amazing tonight!” And the audience participation in We Will Rock You in response to his command “Sing it!” serves to flatten and dull this Freddie Mercury classic, which otherwise we would be happy to be recorded by Robbie.
By Monsoon he is hoarse and garbling – though not “speechless” as he would have it – and the audience response to “I’m not expecting sympathy”… is wild screaming which obliterates the guitar riffs. These girls should have been fitted with silencers when they arrived.
The rendition of Come Undone, built on Robbie’s by now easy rapport with the Knebworth audience, is more sensitive and nuanced than on Escapology, and might alone have justified this release – but for his distracting interjection, “Britain, I’m your son” – the irony of which is not lost by the time he’s “moving to LA” in Hot Fudge.
A pity there’s so little new.