Opera House, Toronto - May 1, 1999

JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

TORONTO -- Robbie Williams has proven there is hope for former teen idols, after all.

The one-time member of early '90s British boy band Take That triumphantly launched his first North American solo tour at The Opera House on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd. They chanted his name, waved Union Jack flags, carried banners (one said, "Oasis, Oasis" for some reason) and sang along to almost all of his songs.

Not bad for an artist whose month-old North American debut, The Ego Has Landed, hasn't exactly set sales records in Canada. Even so, the undeniably catchy first single, Millennium, is slowly climbing up the charts.

From the opening strains of The Star Wars Theme that announced Williams' arrival on stage to his final words of the night after two encores: "May the force be with you -- always!" the 25-year-old pop singer was in full and total control of the frenzied audience.

"This is the key to my hotel room -- I'll see you later," he said nonchalantly before even singing a single note.

Like a former prize fighter returning to the ring after a bad bout -- Williams' acrimonious split from Take That was followed by plenty of boozing, drugs and an eventual rehab stay -- he was in top form as he opened the show with the rousing, show tune-like Let Me Entertain You.

For the rest of the hour-and-a-half concert, Williams rarely stopped moving his muscled, compact body -- clad in a form-fitting, short-sleeved black turtleneck, which showed off his tattoos, and flowing, black pants. He either jumped on the spot, did splits in the air, flipped his wireless microphone (which he actually licked at one point), grabbed himself and wiggled his tongue, or performed contorted dance moves that would have made his hero Tom Jones proud.

And, frankly, seeing an artist full of energy who actually likes to be in the spotlight was an exciting breath of fresh air. It's not a stretch to imagine Williams, goofy one minute, handsome the next, in movies one day.

His comic, slightly hambone, gestures included a self-referential take on Eminen's big hit My Name Is, replacing the chorus of Millennium with Imodium, performing a punk version of Take That's hit Back For Good, and generally giving the audience -- and himself -- a hard time.

"Are we all drinking tonight?" the water-swilling Williams asked at one point. "Will you please get drunk for me?"

Cocky and sarcastic but highly entertaining, he's part lounge singer, part Borscht Belt comedian, a powerful combination that more than made up for his six-piece band, which was enthusiastic but slightly wobbly. They appeared to think volume made up for weakness.

Song highlights included Man Machine, Lazy Days, No Regrets, the ballad Angels, Karma Killer ("This is for someone I completely hate," he said), plus decent covers of Oasis' Wonderwall, Blur's Song 2 and The Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go.

Williams, currently the biggest male pop star in England, is now in New York, where he will perform on the David Letterman show tonight before his album is released in the U.S. tomorrow.

"He's got couch time too," an excited record label publicist reported Saturday night.

Something tells me that before his tour has ended -- he's expected to return to Toronto in October to play a larger venue -- Williams will be visiting a lot more famous furniture.

SET LIST

Let Me Entertain You
My Name Is
Man Machine
Lazy Days
Hey Jude
Win Some Lose Some
Killing Me
No Regrets
Back For Good
Angels
Wonderwall
Forever Texas
Karma Killer
Old Before I Die

*** ENCORES ***
Millennium
Song 2
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Showtime: 8:40 pm

JAM! Rating: 4 out of 5

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