Friday, August 1, 2008

SONGS FROM THE LAST CENTURY

A highlight of my trip to New York City was going to the first of George Michael's two concerts at Madison Square Garden. To be honest, initially, I was far more excited about the social aspect--hanging out with my friends Zena, Lori, Amy and Matt--than the musical one. I've always been a huge George Michael fan, and he's never released a CD that I didn't buy (and love), but the prospect of seeing his mid-fortysomething self prancing around a stage shake shake shaking his booty to "Faith" didn't fill me with breathless anticipation.

Alas, life is full of surprises. George not only held my attention for more than two hours. At several points, my jaw dropped in awe. Also, at several points, my jaw dropped in confusion. A rundown...
  • The paper-printout ticket (I guess ticket stubs are as much a thing of the past as, well, CDs) said that the show would start at 8 p.m. prompt (sic). But George made his grand entrance--vocally, as he sang the entire opening number, "Waiting (Reprise)," from behind a curtain--closer to 9. I suspect they were waiting (pun intended) for all those empty seats to fill up. They sort of didn't.
  • Who knew that George Michael was so self-conscious about his lack of chart success in the U.S. over the last 15 years? He seemed genuinely surprised--and grateful--that he's still popular enough to command two performances at Madison Square Garden. He promised early on to keep the focus on the Faith era, and when introducing several more recent numbers, such as "Star People" and "Spinning the Wheel" (in original and remix form--see video below) from 1996's Older, he seemed almost apologetic to the people in the audience who may have lost interest in him after Faith (as if).
  • There was a 20-minute intermission halfway through the show. If a pushing-50 Madonna can make it through her two-hour non-stop erotic cabaret without pausing for so much as a bathroom break, so can George.
  • For those of us who have been following George's career and buying his albums for the last decade and half, the set-list possibilities are endless. So it's hard to understand why he'd include Songs From the Last Century covers like "Roxanne" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" as well as Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," while leaving out such hits as "Praying for Time," my all-time favorite GM song, "Jesus to a Child" and "Monkey." And "Outside" and "An Easier Affair" could have been tossed in favor of the UK hits "Shoot the Dog and "Freeek!" Other unsolved mysteries: A) opening with "Waiting (Reprise)" and skipping "Waiting for the Day" altogether B) his awkward onstage banter about the protracted legal battle with his record label that effectively derailed his career for much of the '90s, and C) his horny cop get up during "Outside."
  • Much has already been said about George's accelerated aging process. So I won't go on and on about how his face, in the words of my friend Amy, "looks like it's melting." If I were a bell, I'd sound like George. The voice is as strong, clear and silky smooth as it was when he sang "Careless Whisper" as an early twentysomething. And yes, "Careless Whisper" is as prom-night cheesy now as it was all those years ago, but damn, he hit all the right high notes. How'd he do it?
The day after the concert, I started thinking about George's legacy, and the fact that the tour is a celebration of his 25 years in the business. Twenty-five years! That means he's eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Surely Wham will never qualify (too short-lived and lightweight), but in a few years he'll be eligible as a solo artist. I wonder if his truncated U.S. superstardom and his sexuality will work against him. I suspect that it will. After all, if the likes of Steely Dan and John Mellencamp can make it in while Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer remain uninvited, George's name probably won't be making it onto the guest list anytime soon.

But hey, I've been wrong before.

BTW, I'm obsessed with Duffy. Why doesn't George do a duet with her? The one he did with ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena was his lamest single EVAH!

video
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