Last Night: George Michael at American Airlines Center
George Michael American Airlines Center July 14, 2008
Better than: Sitting at home being increasingly taunted by the Project Runway countdown permanently imprinted on the Bravo channel’s lower right corner.
George Michael is pop music’s prodigal son and, according to him, he’s returned to the stage to give thanks. In fact, he called it the most important statement of the night: “Thank you for your support. The past 25 years have been fucking amazing. You have stuck by me.”
And, as if in church, he asks for forgiveness for his absence and declares he is going to work his ass off for the night.
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Despite a long wait for him to start, the lights finally go down almost an hour after show time; the applause goes way up and the huge digital screens light up with an array of lighting design akin to a screensaver--but pretty. A high-tech screen in the center flows from the top of the stage continuously like a waterfall, becoming the floor and spilling over past the edge of the stage. He sings “Waiting” (the reprise) from behind the stage only to appear behind sliding doors in the screen to open the show with the dance hit “Fastlove”.
And for the first time in 17 years, Dallas sees George Michael once again.
“Fastlove” puts the concert in motion and clearly, Michael has not lost the ability to own the stage and the audience. Dressed in all black with sunglasses and signature scruff, he puts high energy into the number, matching the roaring crowd with intensity and enthusiasm and the smile on his face shows he loves it.
And he even throws in a bit about Dallas being his home. 'cause he’s gotta represent.
He then goes straight into the Wham classic “I’m Your Man,” which keeps up the dance club pace. It’s here where the screens get interesting because they play the old black-and-white video of the song, edited against live shots of Michael and more cool graphic designs. Nostalgia hits when a live shot is shown right next to the vid. Or maybe I just overthink things because, seeing it that close, I start thinking about the evolution of him as an artist.
First, it was that whole Wham! UK thing, and then the monster huge Faith album where he claimed fame was too much for him. He disappeared behind his music, sort of, but kept putting out significant pop music. Perhaps not in a chart-busting fashion, but in a smart sense that the genre could be more than just a radio hit with a thumping beat.
Lost in thought, he grabs my attention back with "Father Figure," which keeps the excitement going but also downshifts a little too soon. An interesting backsplash of a silhouetted dancer on the screen is reminiscent of a James Bond movie’s opening credits, and the ballad shows off his still-sexy, smooth vocals that have kept up with his years.
The main screen/stage is flanked by three stories of musicians on each side who are then flanked by additional screens for the side audiences. I keep mentioning the screens because it dawns on me that while they display fascinating and vibrant visuals--and the live shots of him look crisp with the graphics behind--they also disguise the fact that he may not be the most dynamic performer. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad performer, but he is kind of one-note. He’s not a dancer in the way Justin or Michael Jackson is, and he doesn’t play instruments like Prince--uh, can you believe he didn’t even pick up the guitar for “Faith”? Sacrilege!
His energy makes up for that somewhat, though, as he runs around the stage, playing to each side and always asking us to sing along, clap hands or wave our arms in the air. And he sings the shit out of those ballads. So I guess it all balances out.
Hit after hit, the show could almost not be a bad concert, but some interesting moments did happen. “One More Try” was given a gospel treatment. Plus he gave his severely overlooked cover album, Songs from the Last Century, some attention by singing “Roxanne” as a lush torch song and Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, a song so beautifully tender that actually made my eyes well up.
Missteps were few but they did happen: He sang a clichéd little ditty that he claimed to have written when he was 8; when singing “Spinning the Wheel”, a song about infidelity that thrives on its jazzy undertones to a slowed funky beat, he whiplashes us from the groovy version into a dance mix of the song starting back at the beginning; and, while I can’t complain about the number of hits played, I was surprised that the set list didn’t include “I Want Your Sex”, “Monkey”, “Praying for Time” or even “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, although, I might have made fun if he did whip that last one out.
Still, he wasn’t afraid to show his gay pride--and he did so in a way that wasn’t too weird for some or too small for others. Singing his anthemic “Flawless”, a rainbow stream of lights danced around the backing screens and during his second and final encore of “Freedom 90”, pride rings danced in the background. There's something kind of poignant about that.
But while the audience was loving every minute of it, the night may have meant something huge for Michael. Playing in his part-time home, he acknowledges his partner Ken Goss (and dedicated “Amazing” to him) and asks, at the end of his performance, if we've forgiven him. The screams mean an obvious yes. And, in gentlemanly British fashion, he bid us good night and takes a bow.
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: “Father Figure” and “Freedom 90” are probably on my top ten list of all-time favorite songs. That is if I was forced to make such a list.
By the way: $30 for a tour program and $40 for a shirt? Fuck that.
Random Note: There was a sad GM impersonator walking around the floor level. Apparently at intermission, he was walking around the lobby and hall asking everyone if they were going to the after-party and expecting people to want pics with him, according to the people seated in front of me. They also said he spoke in a bad English accent and had some bad teeth. It was also pointed out to me that his gut and creepy lurching didn’t help his image. --Rich Lopez
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