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Live Review: George Michael – Friday 28th October 2011 – Royal Albert Hall, London, UK

8 min read

With the stage beautifully set and the 41-piece London Symphonica Orchestra in place George Michael’s Symphonica Tour finally hit the UK this week with a 4 date residency at the Royal Albert Hall and what venue could be more fitting to host one of music’s most iconic singer-songwriters.

With the European leg of the tour having gained rave reviews from critics and fans alike we went along to see the icon on two of his Royal Albert Hall dates this week.

Having caught George Michael on six of the stars 25 Live dates back in 2008 and having seen the set list prior to attending the gig I have to admit I wad a little apprehensive about the latest tour and whether it would prove as mind blowing as its predecessor. On 25 Live George offered a bursting set consisting of almost every hit that has made him the star that we have come to know and love over the past 30 years however 25 Live was a greatest hits tour after all. Symphonica has always been billed as something entirely different. A set of some of the stars less performed and, I guess some would say, more obscure tracks were due to be performed and backed by the 41-piece orchestra.

Friday was the night to be part of the UK leg of Symphonica without a doubt. The first night that I seen the show was Tuesday 25th October and Michael seemed very withdrawn and subdued, a  dramatically lesser version of his usual bubbly self.  We also noticed on the night that Michael’s disposition seemed rather uncomfortable despite giving a fantastic performance. This disposition led to many critics claiming that the star had stacked on the pounds with headlines like “Cake me up before you go go’ and ‘Gorge Michael’. We would later find out that the reason for this was due to a viral infection which would cause the singer to cancel Wednesday nights show.

Having fully recovered Michael was back to his top form self as he took to the stage on Friday night and the singer brought the house down with a rich and enthusiastic delivery of his amazing repertoire.

Opening with Through, a sentimental ballad from the stars 2004 record – Patience – George stood perched at the top of ascending steps between the split orchestra and only a silhouette of the superstar could be seen by the screaming crowd as he voice resonated throughout the venue.

As the red velvet curtains were drawn to present to us the host for the evening every set of lungs in the audience erupted in awe of one of the worlds greatest musical legends as he made his way to the front of the stage to perform the following My Baby Just Cares For Me, a jazz standard made famous as the signature track by jazz legend Nina Simone as well as being a featured track on Michael’s 1999 release, Songs From The Last Century. The record would prove to be a featured addition to the evenings set with many numbers from its track-listing being performed.

Commenting on the following song being a track about an aging pop star the singer went into fantastic performance of the Elton John penned Idol before gently easing us into the incredible fan favorite Cowboys and Angels, a track that the singer confessed as having never been included on any of his previous tours and an addition that drew one of the biggest and rapturous applause’s of the night.

As well as Michael’s own musical masterpieces he also delivered a powerful set of some of his favourite songs. His rendition of Rufus Wainwright’s Going To A Town was a gorgeous inclusion that put his four backing singers to good use as the foursome belted out a throbbing chorus of harmonies.

Terence Trent D’arby’s Let Her Down Easy and Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren added some sweet balladry to the set and probably two of the most unexpected of cover choices but nonetheless the stood as very fitting numbers among the rest of the nights additions.

With the admission of his break up with now ex-partner Kenny Goss being aired to the public recently the singer dedicated a 5 song segment to his former half.

New ballad Where I Hope You Are offered us a new addition to the George Michael catalogue and showed the singer in a vulnerable state before taking on the melancholic You’ve Changed, a song title that speaks for itself. The following Kissing A Fool was a crowdpleaser with its sweetly arranged melodies and was performed in true jazz style as the singer swaggered around the stage.

There were two covers that stood out throughout the set and made the evening just that extra little more memorable and concluded his homage to Kenny. A beautifully performed Love Is A Losing Game by Amy Winehouse gave the night a heavy dose of mourning. As images of the late singer flashed on the giant screens behing Michael the singers passionate vocals filled every corner of the venue as he made the song his own right through to the closing of the track where a touching photo of Winehouse showed the singer in a rare moment of genuine happiness as the smile the late diva donned made the crowd sigh in sync at the star we have recently lost.

The other was Michael’s revved up, dance-floor induced version of Rihanna’s Russian Roulette. With lights shooting all around the venue and the stage lit in true spectacle style the singer burst into the track with full force as the pounding baseline of the number shock the venue and got the crowd up and dancing to the singers gyrating stage presence, particularly in the chorus as he belted each word out in the style we have come accustomed to with most George Michael performances.

Throughout the evening Michael let his guard down with digs at himself and his personal life which over the past couple of years has been splashed on the cover of almost every newspaper, particularly his encounters with the law and his recent prison sentence.

The crowds acceptance and goodwill towards his not so squeaky clean ‘adventures’ was met after his introduction of the Comic Relief single True Faith following the singers sarcastic declaration to his fans “This next song is about addiction, of course it’s a subject I know nothing about.”

The singer also drew attention to his attire and further confessed that the jacket he was wearing was the same jacket worn in his recent court trial, another quip that provided the singer with an positive reception and gave the night one of many humorous moments.

Three tracks personally stood out for me throughout the evening and they were You Have Been Loved, the Depression-Era standard Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? and A Different Corner.

As soon as the orchestra’s string section introduced You Have Been Loved the audience lost control and applauded the singer who dedicated the track to his late mother. The track has always stood out as a favorite of mine and one of the most beautifully composed pieces of music in the George Michael catalogue and one which showcases the singers whispery vocals and songwriting genius to the fullest extent.

The same can also be said for one of the singers earliest hits, A Different Corner. As the double bass opened the number we were witness to the inclusion of a very rare live performed song and one that was delivered with as much precision and effortless technique as the recorded version, pitch perfect and dripping in nostalgia.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? was performed with gusto as Michael belted out notes of the highest quality to the eager crowd who waited for the dramatically exuberant moments that are plentiful throughout the track.

Nearing the end of the set a few tracks got us on our feet and dancing along with the star showed off his famous Wham! dance moves.

A scantily clad Dita Von Teese graced the screens in almost all of her glory as the singer gave a racy burlesque backed performance of Feeling Good followed by an a capella offering given by Michael and his back up singers of the groups five minute warm up to the gospel crooning of This Little Light Of Mine.

Closing the set the singer gave us a trio of hits that included Amazing, the iconic Wham! hit I’m Your Man and Freedom which came hand in hand with the audience raising their arms in time with the songs chorus.

Closing the set with the down tempo classic I Remember You before getting a standing ovation from his loyal audience George Michael exited the stage as his orchestra played to the departing crowds.

Each time I have seen George Michael I am taken aback by the performance he gives and his effortless ability to deliver some of the most powerfully emotive ballads and ground moving uptempo numbers that have been written. He is one of the true legends of his craft and carries with him not only an unchallenged talent at songwriting but also in my opinion the greatest male voice that music has had the pleasure of hearing.

Michael’s songs in the setting of the Royal Albert Hall and nesting comfortably on a bed of violins and trumpets offered by the Symphonica Orchestra seemed destined to be together and gave each of the performed tracks an even more graceful appeal whether they be draped against his pitch perfect ballads like You Have Been Loved, A Different Corner or Cowboys and Angels or one of the evenings uptempo covers such as the club friendly Rihanna number, Russian Roulette.

The set also proved to be well varied and a treat to George Michael aficionados who have been aching to hear some of the rare Michael tracks previously unperformed or those we may have thought never possible to hear again and all of these factors made George Michael’s Symphonica Tour a true pleasure to witness and be a part of.

Set list:

My Baby Just Cares For Me
Cowboys and Angels
True Faith
Going To A Town
Let Her Down Easy
You Have Been Loved
Wild Is The Wind
Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
John and Elvis
Song To The Siren
A Different Corner
Where I Hope You Are
You’ve Changed
Kissing A Fool
Love Is A Losing Game
Russian Roulette
Praying For Time
Feeling Good
This Little Light Of Mine
I’m Your Man
I Remember You