Friday, 11 November 2011

Symphonica - Gig Report Oberhausen November 9

So there I was, back in the König Pilsner Arena in Oberhausen where, a little over five years ago, I first saw and heard George Michael live. I'll never forget the moment when I first heard that beautiful voice coming at us over the sound system.We couldn't see him yet, only hear him; singing Waiting, such an appropriate choice. The red line on the videostage pulsated, that beautiful voice of his floated through the venue and then, to our utter amazement a door in the middle of the videostage opened and there he was. It was really him, clad in that wonderful sparkling black Armani suit, singing live! My wife and I got to our feet without even noticing it, tears in our eyes.

That night was truly unforgettable! This night, although very, very good, wasn't quite of that high calibre. Vocally though George was absolutely amazing! I still don't know what that yellow/orange stuff is that he keeps drinking all through the shows, but it works wonders. The days of the colds are definitely behind him, and his voice now consistently sounds great. A couple of weeks ago George tweeted about being able to "relax into the songs" and it's true, when you look at him giving this incredible performance it  looks so effortless. But surely it can't be, can it?

George in Oberhausen: " What's the use of pressing palms"

One sentence review: Oberhausen - A beautiful voice on display

I love it when George Michael takes the time to really connect with the crowd, talks to us for a bit, lets himself be applauded at length. Most of all I love it when he's obviously enjoying himself. Tonight however George wasn't chatty at all (pity!) and that big, lovely smile of his only came out during the encore. Henry Hey was clearly under strict orders to start the orchestra on the next song after only a short burst of applause. I guess that's why I got the feeling that George was almost rushing through the setlist, which tonight didn't contain either Safe or Understand.

Still, talking to a few fellow fans in the break and after the concert, I knew George had been  successful in reaching the hearts and souls of his many fans. People looked at me with shining eyes, and talked of how much his voice and his performance had moved them, how much they had loved him. Once again I was in awe of George. That is such an unbelievable gift he has, even if he performs a 'standard' show, he brings people so much joy. He makes them happy, if only for a few hours. It must be wonderful to have that kind of power, and I think George uses it wisely.

Love for Symphonica
One of the things I just love about Symphonica - apart from George of course - is how much everybody on stage with him loves it. And it seems the longer the tour goes on, the more they enjoy it! Just looking at the backing vocalists you realise how much they like the songs George has chosen for this tour. Jay Henry was rocking out to Idol!

And Henry Hey is always a joy to watch. I love it when he half turns on his piano stool, first looking so proudly at George and then beaming at the crowd. His wonderful smile is second only to that dazzling smile of George, and it always goes down a treat with the first rows.

Even the other members of the band are visibly relaxing more and more now. Mark Mclean was grinning from ear to ear tonight during the medley, smiling at the crowd; Phil Palmer was also having fun! And even Ben Butler and David Finck, normally a bit reserved, were all smiles.

But most fun was had by Lee Mullen! As I wrote earlier George has a lot of lines to go through introducing and thanking everyone on stage, and most nights he makes at least one little mistake. Tonight he forgot to introduce his backing vocalists after performing yet another outstanding gospel warm up with them and moved straight into thanking the orchestra. I and everyone around me on the first row was yelling at George that he forgot something but of course the sound got drowned out by the rest of the crowd. Lee Mullen was laughing so hard, pointing at George and yelling at his boss and I think it was his shout that got through to George in the end.

George and the setlist
George brought his Royal Opera House suit to Oberhausen. I love him in that! Even though I feel the black-on-black look suits him even better, he looked good enough to eat in the first half! He kept on the dark glasses he normally only uses for Through for the whole first half. Maybe his eyes were still a bit tender from all the flashlights on Sunday, maybe he just forgot.

And I giggled at his ever widening knowledge of foreign languages. "Gutenabend, Oberhausen". For an Englisman he doesn't have much trouble with the Dutch and German "G". Must be those amazing ears of his! Good job, George.

Good news for Song To The Siren fans: George is back where he belongs, in the middle of that pretty sea of blue. I love that song so much! I was pleased to see that George was projected on the video wall lots of times with other songs as well. Makes for a much nicer evening out for the people in the back.

The visuals for Wild Is The Wind have changed again. A beautiful collage of George, Henry Hey, Phil Palmer, Ben Butler and Mark McLean is on the big screen during the Bowie-part. Yay, I'm so happy for Mark McLean that he got his image up there at last, he so deserves it.

Where I Hope You Are, or as my wife calls it 'the saddest song on earth', was pretty moving again tonight. That is one powerful song, even without George's vocals! I heard the orchestra rehearsing this once and I got tears in my eyes hearing just how wonderful it was. It was a reminder, if  ever I needed one, how great George's talent is.

Magic in Oberhausen: a glimpse of the soundcheck
My wife and I had planned our little trip to Oberhausen to celebrate her birthday on November 10. One of her nicest birthday gifts came a day early! On our way to the box office, to enquire when and where we could pick up our tickets, we heard snatches of music. Wanting to know where it came from we walked along the glass doors of the main entrance. And when we heard the music more clearly we knew: this was unmistakeably Symphonica! We'd stumbled upon the sound check!
Of course, George wasn't with them yet, it was much too early for that (16.45). But let me tell you, that orchestra  sounds mighty fine on it's own! Personally, I feel the last song they play at the concerts, Free, doesn't do them justice at all. If you'd ever hear them go all out on Brother, Can You Spare A Dime, you'd agree.

I've had the pleasure of hearing snippets of sound checks now and again at different venues. The Arena di Verona especially was lovely because as it's an open air Arena the sound of the sound check was so clear. And when George joined them later on and sang Understand (both nights!), it was heaven.
But however beautiful that was, even Verona couldn't offer the one thing that we got now: images! The main entrance doors of the KöPi Areana are made of glass and someone had been kind enough to leave the doors in the hall leading down into the auditorium open. So we had a fine view of the big screen and the orchestra and the singers down below.

Standing with our noses glued to the glass doors we saw and heard quite a bit of the sound check. While we were there the orchestra got through: Wild Is The Wind, Russian Roulette, Idol, Cowboys and Angels and A Different Corner.
Russian Roulette without the vocals consist almost entirely of beat, guys. I's such a heavy beat we could feel it all the way outside! And now I could see for the first time that the lights on the steps on stage and the reading lights for the orchestra pulsate in time with the beat.

And finally: a big thank you to the singers and musicians
People ask me in person or on twitter if I go to every show. Well no, I don't, but it's an easy mistake to make. I've been to quite a few of the high profile shows: the first big Symphonica show after the première, both shows in Verona, all three shows in the Netherlands, three shows at the Royal Albert Hall (I would have made it four if not for George being ill) and the charity show at the Royal Opera House. And then I glanced at the tour schedule today and saw that from the second show in the Netherlands (October 21) all the way through to tonight's show at Oberhausen (Nov 9) I missed only one show: the first show in Dublin. Weird that, I've no idea how that happened. Heh!

Anyway, having travelled for just a little while in the slipstream of the Symphonica Tour I've got so much more respect for all the people involved, and I already had a lot to begin with! Everyone in Symphonica, from George Michael and all the other musicians on stage with him down to the truck drivers and the roadies, is working so very hard to make Symphonica as good as it can be.

I especially am in awe of Jay, Shirley, Lucy, Lincoln, Henry Hey and all the people in the band. They have to be on top of their game every night (and they are!), never getting a show off. And so much travel is deeply tiring, I was totally exhausted when I got back home from the Royal Opera House show.
And still these talented musicians are there for us night after night, supporting George to the best of their abilities, smiling and waving at all the fans and making us feel special. They all do such an amazing job and I hope they know just how much we appreciate it. Thanks very much, guys!

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