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George Michael / June 27, 2008 / Anaheim, Calif. (Honda Center)
Rarely does a performer smile for the duration of a show, but George Michael – out on his first American tour in 17 years -- wore a cat-that-ate-the canary grin throughout his Anaheim, Calif., gig oRarely does a performer smile for the duration of a show, but George Michael – out on his first American tour in 17 years -- wore a cat-that-ate-the canary grin throughout his Anaheim, Calif., gig on Friday night (June 27).
At one point, he said, "every night of the tour, I've known how absolutely lucky I am." And he is, especially considering that his last big hit was his U.S. career peaking single "Freedom 90" almost two decades ago.
The 10,000 fans at the Honda Center were a mixed batch of aging ladies who became Michael fans during the Wham! era, and gay men, who perhaps came into the fold when the singer came out in the late '90s after his public sex bust. Despite the fact that the man on stage was a multimillionaire and international pop star, there was the sense that Michael was an underdog in the midst of a comeback.
That sense was reinforced by his comment midway through: "This" -- he said, pointing to the elaborate set -- "cost me all the money the tour would make. I'm not here for the money. I'm here for you." You could almost feel the audience rooting for him to succeed. He mostly did.
In these days of shrinking indie rock violets, Michael is among a dying breed: a true entertainer and consummate showman. During the uptempo songs, he stalked the huge stage, shimmying, dancing and clapping along. He stood in front of a gargantuan video screen, which in true Michael fashion, frequently flashed images of beautiful women, including the infamous supermodels of the '90s, burlesque star Dita Von Teese and prostitutes in Amsterdam's Red Light District.
With his band flanking him on a three three-story stage and accompanied by six backup vocalists, he sang as many of his lesser-known songs as he did his hits. A still-contemporary sounding "Everything She Wants" was a set highlight. Ballads were also in abundance -- some would say there were too many ballads.
While he's famous for upbeat tunes like "Faith," which opened the second section of the two-pronged set, Michael is also an accomplished balladeer. He seemed to relish taking a seat and concentrating on crooning, and there were times when it was transcendent. "Father Figure" was particularly memorable, and his cover of the Nina Simone song "Feeling Good" was graceful and moving, not to mention lyrically apt (“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me”). His jazzy cover of the Police's "Roxanne" gave it a creative twist.
Michael's voice has lost a tiny bit of its flexibility, but when he was in the middle ranges, it was as elastic as it has ever been. Still, the two-plus hour arena concert could've benefited from better pacing; numerous slow songs were stacked next to each other when the crowd seemed ready to dance.
They were also ready for familiarity. Bucking arena-rock rules, he opened with the more recent and lesser-known "Fast Love." Michael loved it when they responded by singing along and frequently encouraged them. The throng sang every single word of "Careless Whispers," but he often reached out for singalongs during moments that his fans didn't know as well. When they were both on the same page, the moment was electric.
After playing a remixed snippet of "I'm Your Man," he stopped and assured the crowd; "Here we go -- here's the real thing," and they responded in kind, cheering. No wonder he was smiling.