sun 22/09/2019

George Michael, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

George Michael, Royal Albert Hall

George Michael, Royal Albert Hall

Pop classics with strings attached as the former Wham! man gets orchestrated

George Michael on stage: the Wham! T-shirts and Faith-era leather and denim are long gone, but the voice remains the same

With the scheduled start time of last night's gig long gone and George Michael nowhere in sight, scurrilous jokes, gossip and unfounded rumours were floating around the Royal Albert Hall. We won't reprint them here but, needless to say, funny ciggies and Hampstead Heath were being mentioned. George's offstage antics might keep the red tops interested, but once he kicked the show off, backed by a 41-piece orchestra for the opening performance of the London run of his Symphonica tour, his glittering musical pedigree was absolutely centre stage.

This was certainly an odd gig though. Often slow, but languid rather than pedestrian. Not everyone can get away with turning pop songs – his own plucked from his lengthy career and other people's, some he has previously recorded, some he hasn't – into dreamy jazz standards, but he mostly pulled it off. The second number of the night, Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me", was a brisk, big-band run-through. The Police's "Roxanne" became a slightly sinister smoochy number. Rufus Wainwright's "Going to a Town" had a melancholy swing, while the Depression-era "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" had an inevitable contemporary resonance, even if it was being sung by a multimillionaire.

At 48 he should maybe keep the borderline dad-at-the-disco footwork to a minimum

What raised this way above the level of an X Factor Sinatra tribute episode was the black-suited singer’s vocals. I trust Gary Barlow and the various competitors in the crowd were paying attention. While Michael seemed to shy away from the high notes on his eco-anthem "Praying for Time", elsewhere his pipes were as powerful, passionate and soulful as ever. An immaculate, muted "A Different Corner" – a Sliding Doors for the Smash Hits generation – triggered absolute silence in the stalls. Even the massed ranks of phone cameras seemed to pause for three minutes, while his version of "Wild is the Wind", which he confessed he originally thought was written by David Bowie until he discovered the earlier Johnny Mathis recording, was simply stunning, moving suddenly from a slow refrain up through the gears midway.

He was on good form throughout, chatting away between songs, explaining that his frankly weird version of New Order's "True Faith" was "about the nature of addiction. Which I, of course, know zero about". He was in a less sarcastic frame of mind when he introduced a song cycle in the second half which he said was about his recent break-up with his partner, Kenny Goss. A brand new song, "Where I Hope You Are", included the heartrending refrain "I'm sorry", as George appeared to take the blame for the split.

The mood was sombre here, and equally sombre when he sat on a stool to pay tribute to Amy Winehouse with "Love is a Losing Game". But the man who once stuffed shuttlecocks down his shorts for a giggle was surely not going to leave his fans on a downbeat note. A strident version of "Feeling Good", with skimpy burlesque star Dita Von Teese bathing in a giant champagne glass on screen, got everyone – wives, mums, male couples and even reluctant hubbies suddenly paying attention – up on their feet.

 

There had not been much dancing on stage from the star for most of the night, but for the encore of "I'm Your Man" and "Freedom" it was hard to hold the old George back. At 48 he should maybe keep the borderline dad-at-the-disco footwork to a minimum – a little shuffle on his neon staircase almost sank an earlier soaring rendition of Rihanna's "Russian Roulette" – but the music was faultless and as infectious as ever. I came to this gig dreading a version of "Wham! Rap" essayed in a third-rate Rat Pack style. By the end I was thinking maybe it would not have been such a bad idea. His punctuality might be dodgy, but George Michael's way with a tune is timeless.

  • George Michael's Symphonica tour runs until 19 December

Watch George Michael perform "Freedom! '90"

The man who once stuffed shuttlecocks down his shorts was surely not going to leave his fans on a downbeat note

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

What a fantastic show. Still a true live performer.Backing group strings, sax piano out of this world. Made friends with some great people last night . Goerge half an hour late ,so what, give him a break. He looked good not a big headed diva .George thanked his fans.Royal Albert Hall fantastic venue.Wow im skipping to work this morning with a spring in my step thanks George.

I think George is fantastic but I was overall a little disappointed with this show. He needed to live it up quicker and I am not sure why he does not cover more of his own music especially with the orchestra. It was OK, his voice is superb but he should not be embarrassed about using his own material

Different class George. You are still a different level to everyone else in my opinion. One of your best performances for me. The beauty of Geroge Michael is that he could make Humpty Dumpty so the bees!

Hmmm. Impeccable setting, awesome vocals, fantastic orchestra, heartfelt emotions, fantastic visuals. So why did I think "oh no!" when he said the next 5 songs were about his break up, after so long spent listening to George croon his way (beautifully) through so many lounge ballads. Yep, break ups hurt George. Welcome to earth.. Why no "Father Figure", when the setting was so perfect for it, and I'm sure the crowd would have enjoyed Careless Whisper, tacky though it might deemed to be. Why so many cover versions when his repertoire is so extensive? After a an hour and a half of this the I felt that the audience were gagging to have a bop, and once the encore began, the atmosphere changed and the crowd seemed to breath a sigh of relief when they were finally given permission to party. Fantastic concert but would I go again? Nope.

A truly amazing vocal performance with a fabulous orchestra and set. Like many others I would have appreciated more of his own material rather than cover versions of songs, although "kissing a fool" was sensational. The opportunity to express our gratitude for his music came a little late as the "move & groove" songs were bunched into a medley at the end. So sad for fans who have missed out tonight because it was a great show!!

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