Review of the Robin Gibb concert at the Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam by Dutch fan Michel.

© Anneke Ruys

Last friday (October 22, 2010) I saw Robin in the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I was more than a bit worried on beforehand, having seen some recent youtube clips and of course with “Robin Gibb with the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt” album in mind, easily the worst record in the Bee Gees 40 year recording career. The Hall was almost sold out, which means a few thousand visitors.

After the support act, the band came out and started a short musical intro which to my ears did not include any Gibb song snippets. Then the backup singers came out and sang part of a song I could not recognize either. For a moment I thought I was at the wrong concert (1) but then Robin came out and started to sing… “You Win Again”. I had heard him do this song before on the BBC talent show Fame Academy and it’s really a song that Barry sings/sang way better. I think not many people recognized the song either.

Then came “a song from THAT film”, as Robin described most of the Saturday Night Fever songs during the concert, “More than a woman”. This, to my surprise, sounded much better. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the melody, even though it’s fast paced, stays within a certain melodic range, but anyway, Robin’s voice fitted in well.

Next up was “I started a joke”. Obviously fitted to Robin’s voice, this sounded eh… very good. There was a significant portion of die-hard 60s Bee Gees fans in there (the Bee Gees were REALLY big in the 60s in the Netherlands, from “Spicks and Specks” on) and they gave standing ovations for songs like this throughout the concert. Robin’s voice, of course, as the rest of his body, is getting older but to me this sounded as strong as his performances on any of the last Bee Gees concerts (perhaps a note or two lower).

Next up was “Emotion” (called “Emotions” on the setlist I made a photo of, I was sitting right in front of the sound control/mixing board). Again, this was better than I expected or remembered from the Frankfurt album. So, I think it’s fair to say the sound mix of that album really killed it. Even from the audience this concert sounded way better than that album. Could also be that the sound mix problem was caused by having a band AND an orchestra to record. Without the orchestra, it all sounds a lot tighter. I liked the backing vocals here, they really succeeded in copying some of the “Samantha Sang sound”.

In between songs, Robin spoke quite a lot, cracking jokes, telling stories, making it all a lot less serious (which I liked). My brother (not a fan) whom I asked to come along with me, had to laugh when Robin put his thumbs up after every single song. Robin also shook the hands of the people on the front rows quite a few times after the more succesful numbers. It made me think why he still does this concerts. It’s hard to really decide. It’s somewhere between promoting the legacy, wanting to keep moving, loving the attention, doing what he has done his whole life, enjoying himself and connecting with the fans.

Next was “If I can’t have you”. This was one of the lesser performances. Song not suited for this voice (or the other way around) but also, the band failed to capture the disco/r&b sound of the original. Just as the Bee Gees band from the late 80s on, this band is more adept in playing rock/pop/folk than disco/funk/r&b. Example: “Saved by the Bell”. Both sounded just great, Robin and the band. I could not suppress some goosebumps.

After “How deep is your love” came the most inspired performance of the night: “Alan Freeman Days”. The band really rocked on that song. Hearing that song in between all the golden oldies, I had to admit it has all the hooks, melody and power of those classics, yet it’s also very personal (which might not always be the case with the big hits). So, a very pleasant surprise. The audience reacted quite positive to this (for most people) completely unknown song. So, why not put in a few more of the lesser known, contemporary songs, like “Deja vu” or “Embrace”?

After “New York Mining Disaster 1941” – good performance, even without the brotherly harmonies – came “Heartbreaker” which really missed the acoustic around-the-mike approach. But I did like the… sound of the keyboards. It perfectly matched that early 80s synthesizer sound that’s on the original Dionne Warwick recording. The keyboard player is important to the sound of this band. He actually plays two keyboards and is able to switch between all kinds of different sounds, recreating some of the multi-layeredness (new word) of the original recordings and adding some new ideas too. On “Stayin Alive” for instance he played the string section on one keyboard and the brass section on the other (at the same time). On “Juliet” he added a dynamic fast played piano part to the chorus.

“Massachusetts” and “Gotta get a message to you”, again, sounded just great, the audience was now really getting warmed up, with more and more people standing on their feet. This also has something to do with the fact they you get big sing-a-long hit after big sing-a-long hit poured out on you. No-one can stay immune to that I guess. It’s what happened with the Bee Gees concerts and it’s what happened here with Robin solo.

“Night Fever” added to the excitement. What they do with songs like this, is that I think they give the main female backing vocalist (Amalia Gueorguieva) a little bit more eh… volume. Robin just sings along the song but the focus is really on the total sound of the song, which at least to the public, sounds convincing enough to get them on their feet. If Robin would only do songs like these, then the concert would have been nothing more than listening to a coverband with one original member of the Bee Gees. But at any rate, it sounded a lot better than the Frankfurt album.

With “Too much heaven” Robin didn’t seem to be able to decide which part of the multipart harmonies to pick so he sounded unsure there. “To Love Somebody” on the other hand, is an example of a Barry song which he can do very naturally himself. The audience stood up and stayed up for the next song, which I think was the biggest hit of the concert. Strangely enough it was Robin’s version of… “Islands in the Stream”. Not the 2001 version he made with Maurice for “The Record” but more like the 1997 “One Night Only” version. The band made a mid-tempo rocker out of it, Robin sang it well and everybody sung along.

Next was “Words”, again a Barry song that Robin can do well. “Woman in Love” (the chorus being changed to “You are a woman in love”) on the other hand didn’t sound too hot. After “Juliet”, which sounds it was made for concerts, came “You Should be Dancing”. In the hands of this band, this is more a hard rock track than a dance track. It sounds impressive but there is not much soul in it. The same goes for the three encores: “Jive Talkin”, “Stayin Alive” and “Tragedy”. Big rocking sound, everybody on their feet, backing vocals on the fore, but to me, not the highlight on the evening.

So, is a Bee Gees concert better than a Robin Gibb concert? Definitely. You’re missing Barry on the lead, the three-part harmonies, the three brothers on stage. Is a Robin Gibb concert a total failure? Definitely not. He still has the voice, sings his own songs well and occasionally surprises with songs originally sung by Barry. Could his concerts be better? Yes, leave out a few songs that Robin is not able to sing convincingly and put it some more lesser known (old or new) Robin songs. Should some fans stop whining and at least visit one of his concerts? I would say yes ;-).

(1) Later a fan told me they played and sung parts of “Chain Reaction”, so it was a Gibb song after all!