Thursday, July 10, 2008

Taking Us to The Edge of Heaven


That's not only the title of one of George Michael's songs, it describes the experience of seeing him in concert. Even though it was still winter when I waited outside the United Center to buy my tickets to his July 9 show in Chicago, I managed not to lose the tickets in the interim and last night got to see him, a show that I have waited some 20 years for.

Wham! was one of my favourite acts of the 80s, and while their musical career was short-lived, George Michael on his own exceeded that legacy by leaps and bounds. Some of Wham's songs, like "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go," don't really play well these days, being a slice of the 80s, but musically I think some of their work holds up, as George showed last night. 

The show started off slowly, and I was unsure if he would completely turn his back on the Wham! cannon, but those fears that there would be no Wham! were quickly allayed when he made "I'm Your Man," a fun-filled, energetic romp, and while I was in the 300-level and most around me remained seated, I had to get up and dance -- this was a song I had never heard George Michael sing live, and since many times over the past 20 or so years I had turned up the volume and sang along at home or in the car, or selected it on the jukebox during a late night excursion to a Pilsen burrito joint while I was at UIC, or have requested it at Planet Earth, I felt that this was a dance that I had waited two decades to have. 

After which I sat down. That's the type of show it was. George interspersed his upbeat numbers with ballads and just slower stuff, and the crowd, who were not as young as they used to be, would (after the one song that I nearly was alone in dancing to) would get up for a song, dance and sing along, then sit down, which was, I have to say, nice. The rest periods were nice and gave us time to recoup until the next song that had to be danced to ("Too Funky," "Freedom 90," "Everything She Wants," "Outside"). He did not sing "Wake Me Up," which just could have been because the song is all high notes, which he doesn't hit as well these days (though he can still hold a note pretty well) and "Shoot the Dog," which was disappointing because besides being a funky tune is political, and perhaps could have led to his talking politics with us. (His asides were pretty tame, aside from the predictable "This is the sound of Chicago!" as he held his microphone out and encouraged the crowd to scream, he said "girls" can marry "girls" now, as "boys" can marry "boys," before saying, amid the already begun music for the song, "Amazing," that "this is for Kenny" (Goss, his boyfriend). Before singing "Flawless," he said that "this is possibly the gayest song I have ever done. But you don't mind, do you? You like boys who like boys." Nice touch, seeking the approval of the masses. Odd, too. But then, the crowd was a bit odd, I thought, and fascinating demographically.  Of the people who filled 3/4 of the United Center, some 80 percent, possibly more, had to be women. And the median age of the concert goers probably was 40-something. I'm actually fascinated by the demographics. I would have loved to have seen a chart of where the concertgoers lived, their ages, marital status, all that. I don't want to be all Kathy Griffin and shout "where were the gays?!" but it was strange to see a crowd that looked like they were there to see Oprah (aside from the fact that I saw hardly any black people, which was a true disappointment). But damn if these gals (most of them -- there were a few realllly old ones there) didn't scream and dance and shout for George Michael. 

George (not that I'm on a first-name basis with him, but Michael isn't his real surname) wore what is his concert tour uniform of black jeans, black shirt, black suit jacket, with his shades and a couple necklaces, it seemed (the Jumbotron helped), but for such a dour outfit, he really poured his energy into the performance and in contrast to things he has said publicly about not wanting to perform live again, he genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. His second encore was a rousing, gospel-like (as were a few of his songs) rendition of "Freedom 90" and the show ended with him and the crowd all singing the words, "Freedom, freedom..." 

I really wasn't a George Michael fanatic before, but seeing him in concert has given me more admiration for him as a performer and respect for him as a musician. It's been many years that the thought would occasionally creep into my head that "Gee, it would have been cool to see Wham!" or "Man, George Michael has a great stage presence -- he must put on a hell of a show. If he toured here, I'd go in a second." Well, George Michael's "25 Live" show was worth every penny and well worth the wait.



Kiru said...

Thanks for such a positive, honest review.

jenny said...

i'm so jealous! you inspired me to put on my wham! record while i get ready for work.

oh, and i'm going to be out of town for yaz this week, but i'll expect the full rundown when i return... after ellen blogged about them today and i got really excited.

james said...

jenny said:
" i'm going to be out of town for yaz this week, but i'll expect the full rundown when i return.."

yeah, i only hope once again to do better than the lame ST review.

Anonymous said...

Hi thanks for your great report. I have seen a lot of "BIG" act and nothing compares to the show George did while he was in London.

So glad he moved his stubbern ass to the States and let you guys know he that he is the true superstar when he bothers to go out of bed. There aren't any artisits like him anymore. Support Talent!!! Thanks ;)