as he brings stylish Symphonica to town
Performing John and Elvis Are Dead, a video montage behind George Michael showed those late 20th century icons, the singer in such fine form that it might have been easy to forget he came perilously close to joining their club late last year.
However, the sold-out crowd at the SECC were in no doubt at how wonderful it is to have one of the finest pop singers Britain’s ever produced still around, and very much alive and kicking (and shaking his hips sassily as the occasion allowed). As the curtains were parted during sweeping opening number Through, revealing George at the top of a staircase in fine shape – holding attention over the orchestra and band that were providing accompaniment around him – the reception that greeted him was deservedly deafening.
From that swelling and emotive opening it was into the uplifting big-band of My Baby Just Cares For Me (most memorably performed by Nina Simone), some of his drunken-uncle-at-the-wedding-dance shoogling about eliciting more whoops, before a welcome dip into his 80s back catalogue for a slinking, soulful and sublime Father Figure.
The orchestral nature of this very special Symphonica tour – this and other dates rescheduled from 2011 after George’s life-threatening illness – had me beforehand hoping for perky 80s pop playfully clashing against classical flourishes, but the reality was a lot more sedate, soft jazzy instrumentation providing an ideal backdrop for George's silky smooth vocals – the tempo occasionally lifting but not providing too much bite.
It wasn’t a hit-heavy set (covers more the order of the day amongst some carefully chosen numbers from the back catalogue), but enough thought had been placed into proceedings that the performance built steadily throughout the evening – and it was nice to see someone not content to simply wheel out his best known numbers and be done with it. Such was their delivery that even the most throwaway numbers seemed to hold a personal resonance (or perhaps it was just the power of that beautifully resonant and still-crystal-clear voice).
Emerging back after a brief interval (replacing natty black suit jacket for natty purple suit jacket, no denim in sight), George drew wild cheers simply strolling over to either side of the stage. The Police's Roxanne and New Order's True Faith tackled in laid back style (vocoder lending the latter an alien feel), A Different Corner nicely handled with deft string plucks as the audience crooned along. His stirring rendition of Rihanna's Russian Roulette contained an epic grandeur that perhaps outdid the original, Praying For Time providing a mass audience wave-along ("all the same way, please," the singer wryly requested), before Feeling Good ended the set proper.
"Glasgow, you look f---ing amazing – as ever," said George as he arrived back for the encore, expressing gratitude to see a full house after a "tough year" for everyone, acoustic guitars wheeled out for a medley of Amazing, I'm Your Man and Freedom which predictably (and joyously) brought the house down. After another short break the end came with newest single White Light, its electronic backing a sudden but welcome break into club-friendly territory – just in time for everyone to go home. (The audience not looking like the sort to venture out to the Sub Club afterwards.)
There’s plenty of life left in George yet – and last night’s audience appeared to realise how lucky they were to be witness to it, after such a close shave. It was a chance that would have been a folly to pass up, and a blessed opportunity to be in the mood for celebration, instead of – as has happened far too often in the past - only realising what we missed when it’s too late.