Entertainment Music

Friday 23 February 2018

Still have faith? George Michael at the O2

George Michael perfoming in the O2 on Tuesday night.
George Michael perfoming in the O2 on Tuesday night.
Ed Power

Ed Power

George Michael has had so many bizarre and farcical run-ins with the law over recent years that it is almost surreal to think of him as a musician rather than as one-man tabloid headline generator.

Whatever the rest of the world's opinion of the former Wham! man, however, it is obvious that he sees himself very much as a serious artist. That, at least, is the message conveyed by his latest tour, which glosses over the gaudy pop at which he has excelled since the '80s and invites us to pay homage to Michael the high-class crooner.

The atmosphere is very different from Michael's 2006 show at what was then The Point. Back then, he romped his way through such guilty pleasures as 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go' and the smutty gay anthem 'Outside' before unveiling a very rude blow-up effigy of Tony Blair (going where many supposedly 'edgy' artists feared to tread, Michael was a vocal critic of the Iraq war).

Tonight, in contrast, the ambiance is more Last Night at the Proms than Last Days of Disco. In head-to-toe black and designer shades, Michael is backed by a lush light show and a 41-piece orchestra, whose playing conjures a sombre, even funereal, atmosphere. There are soaring saxophone solos and endless sorties by a bow-tied string section. 'Club Tropicana' feels a very, very long way away.

Some of Michael's biggest hits have been soulful ballads, so it's a surprise that he spends so much of the evening covering other people's songs. Being kind, his choice of material might be described as idiosyncratic. 'Idol' is more or less true to Elton John, but New Order's 'True Faith' becomes an Autotune mediated ballad, Rufus Wainwright's 'Going To A Town' a falsetto-splashed wig out.

There are a few curious moments, not least the announcement that, on his previous tour, Dublin was almost as good an audience as Rotterdam. Meanwhile his take on 'Let Her Down Easy', Terence Trent D'Arby's creepy rumination on his daughter's lost virginity is bizarre while his mugging during 'Cowboys and Angels' reduces a delicate ballad to X Factor bombast.

However, he blows your misgivings away with a delirious medley of 'Amazing', 'I'm Your Man' and 'Freedom', chart heat-seekers which remind you that, on his day, Michael 's gifts as an anthemic songwriter are without compare. , If only he'd allowed his inner pop tart off the leash a little sooner.

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