The twenty-second Sziget Festival kicked off yesterday with a jaw-dropping 1.5-hour show put on by British pop rock superstar Robbie Williams to a full-house audience in the evening of the one-week festival’s “Day -1”.
The performer, who is famous for accepting invitations to perform at festivals only very occasionally, bagged the largest-ever single payment in the festival’s history, estimated between HUF 100m and HUF 500m (USD 350 000 – USD 1.78m), which was clearly evident from the day-ticket’s price tag, which, at HUF 20 000 (USD 70), many budgeting on Hungarian wallets would find exorbitant. This is especially the case as Sziget is a festival which has its roots in a relatively low-key student event. It’s no coincidence that Sziget has, by now, become an event directed at least as much at the foreign crowd as at domestic audiences, with a reported 90 per cent of whole-week season tickets being bought by revellers flocking to “The Island” from far-away lands such as the Netherlands, France or Italy.
Despite radiating sheer professionalism in every possible meaning of the word was preceeded by an embarrassing Twitter gaffe confusing Budapest with the Romanian capital Bucharest – a mistake many of us thought belongs to the past -, an airport disagreement with a television reporter trying to film the star that almost resulted in the concert being put off and an ill-conceived request of being taken to the festival site via helicopter from the top-luxury Four Seasons Gresham hotel in central Budapest. However, there was nothing to hint at these complications during the show itself, kicking off and ending unusually on time and parading around a dozen top-notch dancers as the singer’s backdrop. “Let Me Entertain You”, Robbie’s trademark 1998 hit which came first on the evening’s lineup, could best describe the atmosphere of the appearance, a no-risks yet dashing affair which featured all-time favourites such as “Angel”, “Feel” or “Supreme”, alongside karaoke tributes to Oasis, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Lorde. The 41-year-old appeared surprisingly informal and relaxed during the giga production, enhanced further by spectacular lighting effects and flawless acoustics, and seemed to be completely at ease to pick his usual young girl from the front row of the audience, who this time happened to be 22-year-old Krisztina from Nyíregyháza in northeastern Hungary, to then drop a string of cheeky comments and put on a well-choreographed “bed scene” with her, to the amusement of the giggling audience.
Although, briefly introducing himself to the younger audiences, the singer once jokingly referred to himself as someone known from the 1990s, make no mistake: as proven by his yesterday gig in the capital, the “international superstar”, as he later called himself with self-confidence bordering narcissism, still has a lot up his sleeve after a 25-year career in music. In all probability, his performance to 80 000 fans young and less young even before the festival had technically begun, has set standards difficult to surpass even for one of Europe’s top annual music events. One thing’s for sure: the ticket for yesterday evening was worth every penny of the asking price.
photos: István Fazekas/hvg.hu and Balázs Mohai/MTI