George Michael

Jon Langmead
Photo: Dean Freeman

It feels good to know, 25 years on, that George Michael has stuck around and found vindication, just like he always hoped he would.

George Michael

George Michael

City: New York, NY
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Date: 2008-07-23

One of the most overlooked of the mega-pop stars from the 1980s, George Michael's live performance is thoroughly enjoyable because there's nothing threatening about his musical presence. He's a talented writer and performer, but his virtuosity doesn't have the power to awe you in the way that Prince’s ability can. His dancing, compared to Michael Jackson and Madonna, leaves a little to be desired. He's nowhere as iconic as Bruce Springsteen, at least not in the United States. His voice is reliable and moving, but he feels no pressure to use it to bring down the house. He seems to have little embarrassment over, or desire to explain away, the public slips in his personal life. He's totally affable on stage, which is no easy feat, and his pleasure is contagious. When he calls this audience the best of the tour to date, his smile can barely contain what you might call unabashed glee. Certainly as self-effacing as a person who's moved 80 million units can be (perhaps because he's been away for so long), he seems genuinely appreciative of the crowd's approval. On his first tour of North America in 17 years, with only occasional recorded output and almost no play on hit radio or MTV in over a decade (can Limp Bizkit's cover of “Faith” possibly count?), he might have been wondering whether his audience was still be out there. His New York crowd does not disappoint. There are more than a few “Choose Life” shirts, and at least one man who went to great lengths to re-create Michael's most famous look from the Faith-years. People line up for pricey souvenirs and no one seems too ashamed to dance along to the show (Michael's own dance moves are enough to get you on your feet, but certainly not enough to make you feel self-conscious). For such a major attraction he has a surprising need to look for affirmation in his songs, a tricky and sometimes unattractive vulnerability to put across; but tonight, with each volley, he finds it almost without exception from a packed Madison Square Garden. Aside from three immense video displays that keep the visuals bright and humming along, he keeps the stage almost entirely to himself during the two-hour show. His eleven-piece band is stacked somewhat anonymously, like my Ford Focus around the corner in the $25 lot, on three levels in between the screens. Michael does go out of his way to graciously acknowledge them as the evening closes and he occasionally brings his four back-up singers down onto the stage with him for some jumbled, spontaneous, unaffected dance moves that add to the loose, enjoyable feel of the night. There are no drum solos, no guitar faces, no vocal histrionics, and no pre-arranged dance routines or numbers. He does bring a small portion of his band down: Once to center stage for “Faith”, and again to the end of the stage's catwalk for three songs, including a lounge-take on The Police's “Roxanne”. Otherwise, the set hums along at a largely up-tempo pace. He finds room for two Wham! Songs (“Everything She Wants” and “Careless Whisper”, which draw possibly the loudest response of the evening) as well as the majority of his solo hits (he leaves out “Monkey” and “I Want Your Sex” from the Faith album and, not surprisingly, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”). The performances stick like glue to the originals, down to sampled drum and keyboard sounds to match the recorded versions, though the performances never feel bottled. His sound rarely strays too far from his take on club-pleasing, early ‘90s dance, and remains determined, at least as much as any of his ‘80s contemporaries, to follow his particular vision wherever it leads him. Closing the night with “Freedom”, he is almost instantly drowned out by the audience sing-along. It is a tiny bit nostalgia, perhaps, though the audience is too caught up in the moment to be looking back. While the video screens play synchronized snippets from the song's video, Michael touches all points of the stage. As the models on the jumbo screens lip sync along, Michael leads the crowd forward. Video jukeboxes explode on cue and a discarded leather jacket burns. The audience is almost entirely old enough to have known the song when it was still popular and they couldn't be happier to have George Michael back after all these years, even if it may be for the last time. It feels good to know, 25 years on, that he's stuck around and found vindication, just like he always hoped he would. Meanwhile, Christy, Cindy, Linda, and Naomi remain frozen in time, larger than life and safe from aging.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.