Friday, March 8, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Robbie Williams performed as his Robbie Williams persona for nearly two hours Wednesday night at Encore Theater, the first of 15 headlining shows at Wynn Las Vegas, but after singing his best-selling single “Angels” he seemed to come out of character if only for a moment.
In explaining how difficult it was to select the songs for this new Vegas show, Williams continued his ongoing joke about how he’s just not as famous and successful in the United States as he is almost everywhere else. He was being funny and honest: “I genuinely didn’t know if you’d know any of my songs.”
That uncertainty was qualified by the fact that his first show contained only seven Robbie Williams originals. Some of his biggest global hits were absent, like 1997’s “She’s the One” and 1998’s “Millennium,” as were fan favorites like “Monsoon,” “Love My Life” and “Rudebox.” A load of loopy covers took their place, including “Moonie the Moocher,” “Jump in the Line” and Radiohead’s “Creep.” Williams may have become the first performer to drop songs by Cab Calloway, Shaggy and Dean Martin in the same concert.
Most important, it was a lot of fun. The deafening ovation after his first two songs, “Live in Las Vegas” and “Let Me Entertain You,” was the single loudest moment I’ve ever experienced in this venue, amped up by plenty of visiting European fans. Williams is ideally suited to modernize the style and sounds of the Rat Pack in Vegas, whose photos are displayed in his dressing room. Those guys are his heroes and he’s over the moon to be following in their Vegas footsteps.
His mischievous charm is undeniable and his voice and charisma are as strong as he wants them to be. Williams serenaded a female fan with “Something Stupid,” sang songs from the earliest days of his long career like “Mr. Bojangles” and dueted with his dad, club singer Pete Conway, on “Sweet Caroline” and “That’s Life.” And after that honest admission, he fittingly closed with “My Way.”
Williams was also honest about his Vegas intentions: He wants to play here for a long time. Though Wednesday’s show and several others have sold out, his booking at Wynn (produced by AEG Presents) is something of an enigma because of his unique status of “totally global except the USA.” In a press conference held earlier this week, Wynn’s general manager of entertainment operations Rick Gray revealed he had discovered Williams’ music and stage skills during a plane trip and tried to book the 45-year-old entertainer way back in 2007.
Williams also indicated this mini-residency has been in the works for at least three years, and noted at the press conference that 70 percent of tickets sold so far were purchased in the states. That is exciting for him, and the success of an international star at this theater, which has recently hosted Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, John Fogerty and Kenny Loggins, is exciting for Wynn. If Williams thrives here and signs on for more shows, it could bring about an interesting shift on the Strip’s resident headliner landscape.
Robbie Williams performs at 8 p.m. March 8, 9, 13, 15 and 16, and returns for 10 more shows in June and July at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-770-9966) and more info can be found at wynnlasvegas.com.