Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
July 23, 2008
Absence does, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. After 17 years, George Michael returned to the New York concert stage with a show referencing the highlights of his almost 30-year career. Featuring songs from Wham!
("Careless Whisper," "Everything She Wants" and "I'm Your Man"), his commercial hits phase ("Faith," "Father Figure" and "Freedom"), covers (including a memorable take on The Police's "Roxanne"), as well as minor hits (dance numbers like "Outside" and "An Easier Affair") and various album tracks ("Hard Day," "Amazing"), the 45-year-old singer delivered a flashy two-set show that had the crowd of admirers dancing in the aisles.
Touring behind his latest "Greatest Hits" package, Twenty-Five, were over a dozen accompanying musicians and an additional six back-up singers (admittedly, it might have proven more interesting to see less of the back-up singers and more of the stellar band members, who were kept hidden for most of the evening by the stage configuration).
Ever the showman, Michael's stage set-up was unlike anything The Garden had ever seen before. The band was situated on a three-tier set-up on either side of the huge five-story center LED video screen, which sloped from well above the third level down to the floor under the singer's feet and on to the catwalk that extended into the crowd. Additional, three-story monitors were placed on both sides of the center video screen. Pre-recorded vignettes of models, showgirls and the Red Light District in Amsterdam (all of which Michael commented were for "the boyfriends dragged here tonight") interspersed with live candid footage were projected on these screens during each song.
Prior to show time, the crowd was waiting with anticipation for the concert to start when suddenly the lights dimmed, the LED monitors separated and Michael made a dramatic entrance for the opening notes of "Waiting" from Faith (Columbia, 1987). The first set, though a bit uneven in production details, was highlighted by the Wham! staples "I'm Your Man" and "Everything She Wants," which brought Michael and many long-time female fans back to that special time in the 1980s before he parted with Andrew Ridgeley, went through a very public divorce with his record label, and became front-page news for his sexual behavior rather than his music. Soon, "Father Figure" became a sing-along as young and old joined Michael for the ballad, which was clearly no less heartfelt for the number of times the vocalist had previously performed it.
After a 20-minute intermission featuring videos of John Lennon and Elvis Presley projected on the monitors, Michael returned to thunderous applause once again, as he launched into a spirited version of "Faith" (his first #1 hit), which featured a rockabilly-tinged semi-Bo Diddley backbeat. His reworked, soulful version of "Roxanne" was surprising in its jazz-based simplicity yet no less pleasing than the original.
But it was on the encores that Michael really shined. "Praying For Time," "Careless Whisper" and "Freedom," with their familiar pop/R&B/soul arrangements, were the songs that the fans left no doubt they had come to hear.