Kicks off 47-gig tour called '25 Live.'

George Michael, who has caused as much controversy as he has won critical acclaim, kicked off his first tour in 15 years with a mixture of dance hits, ballads and political commentary.

Having sworn only last year that his pop days were over, Michael has started a 47-gig tour called "25 Live," celebrating a quarter of a century in the music business.

"Well it just goes to show, doesn't it? Never say never," the 43-year-old singer wrote in the tour programme.

"I truly believed that tonight would never happen, that I would never sing these songs to you again. But then I'm a fool."

As the lights dimmed on a bare set on Saturday evening, the strains of "Waiting" echoed through the packed San Jordi hall, Michael coyly crooning: "You once said there's a way back for every man ... Is it too late to try again? Here I am!"

The crowd screamed as Michael stepped out on stage and started to work through the hits that have made him one of the most enduring pop musicians, with 85 million record sales, a Grammy and seven British number one albums to his name.

The concert ran the gamut from his freshfaced teenager days in 1980s group Wham!, through hits like "Fastlove" and "Jesus to a Child," to a new persona dealing with politics and sexuality.

A curtain of thousands of LED lights that swept down the back of the stage, along the floor and down into the audience kept the pace with the mood swings, painting reflective backdrops for the ballads and recreating famous video clips.

Whistles filled the arena when it came to "Shoot the Dog," whose cartoon video shows President Bush in bed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife.

Controversy is nothing new for Michael, who has won plenty of headlines for sex and drugs as well as for rock and roll.

He was arrested in 1998 for engaging in a "lewd act" in a public toilet in Los Angeles, after which he ended years of speculation about his sexuality by announcing that he was gay. This year he was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs.

A rough ride in the 1990s when his lover and mother died took him out of the spotlight for years, with only a couple of albums and the occasional appearance in charity concerts.

All that is behind him for the European concerts, some of which sold out in just minutes.

"He looks better, he feels better, he sings better than he has done in years," said his partner of 10 years, Kenny Gross.

"It's going to be fantastic."