For a while now, I've been closely monitoring the @GeorgeMichael tweets, reading the public messages my fellow GM-fans send to George.What's immediately apparent is this: George Michael is loved - deeply and truly loved - by his many fans. So many of us have invited George's music and George himself into our lives at a fairly young age, and have clearly rejoiced ever since in having him join us on our walk through life. So much so in fact, that judging from twitter, you'd think George went around performing miracles left and right. And in a way he is, just not the 'healing the sick' variety.
I've been privileged to see the effect George Michael has on his fans up close a few times and it's always a touching and somewhat humbling experience. Tonight was no exception.
In the seat next to me a woman all the way from Brazil saw her lifetime dream of seeing George Michael live come true. From time to time I glanced to the left to see how she was enjoying her very first George Michael concert. The rapturous, intense look on her face said it all. She was leaning forward in her seat, wanting to be even closer to him than she was in row 2, taking in his every word and gesture - and being completely oblivious to the rest of her surroundings. It was a wonderful sight.
To the right of me was a Dutch man, another big time fan. He was also getting his first taste of Symphonica and by the looks of it loving every minute of it. Tapping his feet to the beat, swaying in his seat during the ballads and whooping with delight after every song, he appeared to be having one of the best if not the best nights of 2011!
What must it be like to be George Michael, to know that you have the ability to affect people in this way? Changing people's life for the better, sometimes forever (as was the case for me because his courage inspired me to educate high school kids about diversity and gay rights), sometimes just for the duration of a concert, that is performing a miracle.
One sentence review: George wows "every other lovely in the world" (TM @TanteGeraldine) in Antwerp
Please read on for more details of the night. If you prefer to read the Dutch in-depth review, that's over here.
Song Of The Night
No doubt about it: George Michael is an absolute genius when it comes to covering a song. Once George covers a song, it stays covered! It's now impossible for me to listen to the original of a Symphonica cover without hearing the faint echo of the George Michael version in my mind. I like most of the covers in Symphonica, especially feeling much love for George's take on Going To A Town, Let Her Down Easy, True Faith and of course Russian Roulette.
So I was delighted to read that 25Live fan favourite Song To The Siren got added to the setlist. I was sure he'd make it so special for us. And he did, he did. At first I almost didn't recognize it, it was so different from the 25Live version. And so much better, even though I'd have sworn during 25Live that it couldn't be improved upon, that it was perfect already. How does he do that? This version of Song To The Siren is very emotional, haunting, sad and so very beautiful. I don't ever want to lose it, so George, if you drop this one like you dropped Understand I might not forgive you.
George Michael: The man and his voice
Well, tonight the man and his voice took their time getting to the stage. Because I was so close to the stage I could quite easily sneak a peek under the curtain and see what was happening on stage (not a whole lot!). I could spy the members of the orchestra, sitting in place for a good long while before the start of the show, waiting as we all were for George to come on stage. Even the biggest female GM-fan in the orchestra looked a bit bored and annoyed with her boss after 20 minutes or so and who could blame her.
And then all of a sudden there he was, in the dark at the edge of the stage, already in character. Standing between the trees of light that create that special starlight effect in Through, in that wonderful dramatic stance of his that's pure George (legs far apart, arms extended away from his sides). We were ready to start.
The fans who've been a couple of shows noticed at once that compared to earlier performances his voice was a bit gravelly tonight, like maybe he was just coming off a bit of a cold. Or maybe he couldn't find the time to do lots of vocal exercises to warm up his voice. Whatever the reason, for a significant part of the first half his voice was a little bit rough around the edges. Even so, he was very good vocally, several people who saw their first Symphonica show yesterday told me they were in awe of his vocal performance. Gradually his voice got better so that near the end of the first half I even saw the famous George Michael smirk. It tends to appear when things are finally going his way again after a less than ideal start. I love that smirk and I totally agree with @Disney30 that the smirk is George's subtle (heh) way of saying: "I'm good and I know it."
Having read about George Michael's cute attempts to speak French, I was curious to see if he would do us the honour of speaking to us in Dutch. Well he did! It was only a few words: "Goedenavond Antwerpen", which of course means "Good evening Antwerp" but he did a good job of pronouncing the words. Hope he learns some more Dutch words for the shows in Rotterdam.
George was rather subdued tonight, not talking much between songs, maybe to spare his voice a little. A pity, as I so love his little talks. He was also rather serious tonight, when he finally gave us that big lovely smile of his in Wild is the Wind (Bovie style!) I realised it had been long overdue. And I think there's a new shout-out for a member of the orchestra during Cowboys and Angels, can't remember him doing that before.
To be honest I'd expected a bit more of the Antwerp crowd, they were great but mostly reserved their all-out enthusiasm for A Different Corner which was very good tonight and of course the encores. Maybe they took their cue from George Michael's quiet mood, I don't know.
The new setlist
These last couple of week there have been quite a few changes to the setlist. To my great delight Song To The Siren was added, to my utter chagrin Understand was dropped. Wild Is The Wind is now partly up-tempo, which I think is a big improvement. Also, I noticed some changes in the arrangements. A Different Corner got a new arrangement, and one or two other songs.
And of course the order of the songs got changed around a lot and I have to say, I'm not a fan of the new setlist . From the beginning of the tour the second half has always looked a bit top heavy to me, with a couple of 'big' songs like Russian Roulette, True Faith, Feeling Good, and Praying For Time battling it out with the songs that pack the biggest emotional punch like A Different Corner, newcomer Song To The Siren and Where I Hope You Are. In comparison the first half seems rather tame, even more so with the new setlist - now that George sings Going To A Town and Let Her Down Easy back to back. Although Cowboys and Angels always gets a big reaction from the audience. Not in the least because that's the first time a big image of George is projected onto the video wall.
And finally - Special effect of the night
From my seat close to the stage I could really appreciate the amazing job the lighting crew has done with the lighting show for Cowboys and Angels, most impressive even before the intro starts. That first bit is either new or I've never properly paid attention to it before, probably the latter (too focussed on George). If you haven't checked it out yet on Youtube, please do. It's stunning, big applause for the lightning people.