Robbie Williams Review
In one of their more accurate and, therefore, cutting moments, Matt Lucas and David Walliams' Rock Profiles cast Gary Barlow as living in a terraced house somewhere in Manchester. Barlow, in the hope of keeping some company, forced his old Take That partner, Howard Donald, to live in a cupboard under the stairs and both would sit gazing out the front window in the hope of seeing either Jason Orange of Mark Own pop by for a cup of tea. Robbie Williams? Testament to his increasing fame, Lucas' frustrated Barlow raged over even the mention of his name but blamed the shabby appearance of Walliams' Donald for Robbie Williams' lack of an appearance rather his increasing celebrity.
The episode - if not the best from Rock Profiles short run - gets what everyone who followed the breaking up of Take That feels happened. Sure it's unlikely that Gary Barlow lives in a terraced house in Wilmslow with Howard Donald but otherwise, it's so funny because it's so true.
Over three nights in August 2003, Robbie Williams played to 375,000 fans with another 3.5 million watching a live broadcast on Channel 4, breaking a stack of UK records for live concerts. What We Did Last Summer presents footage from the concerts within a single two-hour show, which opens with Robbie’s Houdini-like arrival on stage, through the singing of his first song, Let Me Entertain You and on to the audience sing-a-long finale of Angels. Along the way, Williams serenades the women in the crowd, gets the audience booing all mentions of drugs and, in footage hidden on disc two, invites his old friend, Mark Owen, onto the stage for a performance of the Take That song, Back For Good.
As things stand at the moment, prior to the release of What We Did Last Summer, Robbie Williams holds the record for the biggest selling music DVD released in the UK with Live At The Albert Hall, which has currently sold slightly more than 200,000 copies. It is entirely possible that What We Did Last Summer will overtake it should only a fraction of those who saw these concerts either at Knebworth or on television pick up a copy.
Let Me Entertain You is an obvious opener but what's surprising is how a couple of the obvious songs are missing. With Millennium and Freedom completely absent and the only Take That cover tucked away on disc two and only accessible via a game, there's a fair number of the big songs but somehow less than you'd expect - have a look through the set list and see if you agree:
- Let Me Entertain You
- Let Love Be Your Energy
- Come Undone
- Me & My Monkey
- Hot Fudge
- Mr. Bojangles
- She's The One
- No Regrets
- Better Man
- Nan's Song
- Rock DJ
Williams isn't a bad performer by any means as he's got a good line in self-depecrating humour as well as an easy-going manner with the crowd. As well as an "alcohol good, drugs bad" bit of interaction, he picks up a shirt thrown by a girl in the crowd and not only throws it back to her but also gives her the jacket he's been wearing for the last few songs and changes the lyrics of the next song to include her name. Quite obviously, she's walking on air at this point and in addition to feeling happy for her and that maybe Williams is a better performer that you'd previously given him credit for, you've got to feel a little sorry for her boyfriend who stands no chance of competing with that, try as he might with a supportive hug.
Whilst not overly exciting, EMI have done a better job than most in making this something to watch, rather than just pass by onscreen. The cinematography is much better than that seen on other concert films with there being some thought given to how the cameras should be set up around the stage to best capture the feeling of being there. Better yet is the camera operators' lack of fear in letting Williams play with their footage and there are quite a few times that they stand back and let him fool around with the cameras if it improves the film.
With the concert was set at just the right time to see the August sun set behind the crowd and with the backdrop being the impressive grounds of Knebworth House, the mix of songs and Williams onstage patter mean that this really isn't at all bad...not bad at all.
What We Did Last Summer has been anamorphically presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been filmed, if the back of the DVD case is to be believed, in High Definition. Unfortunately, without a HDTV, I had little chance to check out exactly how much better the image is but even on a widescreen Trinitron screen, it's good. As with so many live concerts, rear projection is used extensively and it fair livens up the screen, particularly during Let Love Be Your Energy. Otherwise, the image is good, the picture is very sharp and the colours are bright. Disc 2 is a slightly different matter having been sourced from anything from web cams to DV camcorders but the messy jumble of picture formats is appealing given the structure of the disc.
What We Did Last Summer is available with not only a stereo soundtrack but has also been remixed into both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Interestingly, there appears to have been little post-production work carried out and the band and Williams sound not dissimilar to had they been recorded off the mixing desk, which is generally preferable to sounding as though a studio mix was synchronised to live footage. As a result of this decision, the rear speakers are used for ambient and crowd sounds.
All the bonus features included on What We Did Last Summer are listed below:
Photo Gallery (1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features twenty images that are presented in 4m12s of rolling footage.
Moments Of Mass Distraction (13m55s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This presents backstage footage from the Knebworth concerts over the three nights showing Robbie, his band and his dancers both preparing before the gigs and winding down afterwards. Williams is as engaging as ever but goes tend to grate when all too obviously gurning for the camera.
More Precious Than Gold (3m04s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a short film made for Unicef that is both introduced and narrated by Robbie Williams, which highlights the issue of child trafficking and exploitation.
Fan Diaries (1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Soundtracked by Robbie Williams, obviously, the DVD contains two short films - 3m33s and 2m30s, respectively - that follows fans setting off from home and arriving at the gigs.
Time Lapse Footage (4m13s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic. 2.0 Stereo): Using the footage from a few cameras, this uses time lapse photography to view the transformation of the Knebworth site from an empty field to a concert venue to the concerts and, finally, to the dismantling of the stage.
DVD Trailers (1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features four trailers for earlier DVDs:
- Where Egos Dare (1m52s)
- Live At The Albert (1m49s)
- Nobody Someday (1m46s)
- The Robbie Williams Show (2m03s)
Interactive Game: Using your DVD remote control, you'll be required to hit a rogue Robbie, which, once done, will reveal some behind-the-scenes and concert footage including a performance of Back For Good with Mark Owen (4m46s)
DVD-ROM Section: This allows fans to customise their desktops with some Robbie Williams bits and pieces.
All of these extras are subtitled, where suitable, with English, French, German and Spanish subtitles.
Being honest, I'm no fan of Robbie Williams, finding that all too often, his constant gurning in front of the camera comes over as charmless but armed with a clutch of good songs amongst an armful of rather mediocre ones. Yet, What We Did Last Summer really isn't at all bad and, for fans of Robbie Williams, this will be enjoyed in much the same manner as Led Zeppelin is replayed over and over on my system at home. Clearly, the guy's got something going for him and his best songs - Strong, Supreme and Angels - are very good indeed. Well timed for Christmas, if you know anyone who either attended these shows or is just lacking some Robbie merchandise this December, this is well recommended for them alone. Just don't think that this'll make Sing When You're Winning the thing for you if that isn't already the case.