Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Symphonica Gig Report - Paris (September 9)

So, another charity show at another famous Opera House. It's rather a big deal that George Michael bagged both the London and the Paris Opera House for his Symphonica Tour. Just like the London Royal Opera House the Palais Garnier is a stunning venue. Although the Royal Albert Hall will always remain my one true love, it was certainly memorable to walk around in such a old, venerable building, surrounded by so many smartly dressed people.

Isn't the lighting during Cowboys and Angels breathtaking?
I think George Michael must have secretly rejoiced in the fact that nowadays his talent, and his voice is so much appreciated that he's warmly welcomed in theatres as prestigious as these. He's certainly come a long way from being the boy with the blond highlights and the Choose Life t-shirt. And I'm glad for him because for a long time all he wanted was to be taken seriously as an artist. With the rave reviews still pouring in, no one will ever mistake George Michael for just another popstar again.

One sentence review: George Michael's star shines brightly at the Paris Opera

George Michael walked on stage wearing a black suit, a black t-shirt and no tie. No tie! Oh well, he looked mighty fine to me even if not exactly dressed the way he should have been. I think a certain Dutch couple were relieved that the big star was dressed this way. They didn't follow the dress code either because somehow they missed all the announcements about it. We met them at the café outside the Palais Garnier where we were all having a very pricey drink before the show and they felt so embarrassed when all the fans in their beautiful clothes walked by. We reassured them that they certainly wouldn't be turned away because of their clothes and they relaxed somewhat.

We got to talking about George, as tends to happen when fans meet other fans. "I've been to a George Michael show 22 times", the man told us, clearly expecting us to be deeply impressed. And with any other group of people I'm sure he would have gotten that. But this was a tough room, most of us were fans of the I go where George goes variety with a lot of shows under our belts. Disappointed he walked away; it just wasn't his night. But I'm sure they weren't turned away and I just know that like everybody else they had a marvellous time.

What made me laugh

In Paris the crowd made me laugh, it was just such a fun crowd. Be warned Dutch fans, we have our work cut out for us trying to top this show for George on Friday! Just like George himself I'd expected the crowd to be rather reserved, with the French Opera buffs maybe loosening up a bit towards the end. Instead everyone absolutely loved the show and George from the first tones of Through. We were all loudly clapping along - for the whole song - with My Baby Just Cares For Me and it went on from there. It was a riot!

And of course George made me giggle. He's such a funny guy and he can always make me laugh. Coming on stage for the first encore he used a funny voice for introducing the next bit of music. "This is what we call a medley", he said. It's all in the delivery, people!

Song of the Night

I got a kick out of seeing Brother Can You Spare A Dime.
This is such a big song, perfect for ending the first half of the show. Everyone leaves their seat for drinks and a bathroom break in the best of moods. I think George loves singing this because whenever I take in his body language during this song he seems totally into it. Today it was especially fun because I was so high up I could see the whole stage. I usually have a floor seat so I don't get to see Mark Mclean giving it his all at the drums, so it was nice watching him perform again.

Highlight of the Night

The highlight of the night was George doing his famous dance move and seeing and hearing the crowd go wild every time he did it. You know the one: body swaying, he stretches his arms wide and crosses them in front of his body. Here is  a short example from the second Vienna show. It's definitely a throwback to a time when hiphop wasn't yet everywhere. That doesn't matter at all, it remains a big hit with the fans. I love it too, because he always seems so happy when he does it.

A tight spot

A first for me: I enjoyed the show immensely, but didn't like the experience of sitting in the auditorium.

In the break the nice Croatian girl next to me asked me if I was a reporter because I had my notebook out so much. Well no, if I were a reporter I bet I would have been sitting somewhere a whole lot nicer! For one thing I was all the way up in the nosebleed section (the ceiling was only 4 rows away from where I was!) - which was not in any way made clear when I bought my ticket on the Opera website. For another, the seats were incredibly cramped - clearly intended for petite French women. Now I've sat in seats with little legroom before, but here was a seat with no legroom. Actually it had negative legroom, which is a polite way of saying that I simply didn't fit in the place allotted to me. I had to wedge myself in by pressing my legs hard to the seat in front of me and ignoring the pain. Of course, the knees of the person sitting behind me were pressing in my back and I couldn't sit up straight.

All in all it was a very claustrophobic affair and the stifling heat up there didn't help any. Before the start of the show the only thoughts in my mind were: "I can't stand this, I can't breathe. I've got to get out of here - NOW!"  My wife was appalled when I told her how bad it had been. She was also very cross with me: "Why on earth didn't you just leave?", she asked, knowing the answer as soon as she'd spoken. She sighed resignedly. Heh, it's not easy living with a fan!

So I didn't leave, but I was praying for George to start because seeing the show would help take my mind off things. Well, he put on a very good show and the crowd was absolutely amazing. I'm glad I stayed and toughed it out. Still, I wouldn't care to go through something like that again. Today I have the bruises on my legs as a reminder that yes, I was at the charity show at the Paris Opera. It's truly amazing what we will put up with as a fan!

A spot of bother 

Another first: George lost his way a little bit during Roxanne. During all of the 2011 shows and all the way up to this moment he'd been so very good at remembering his lines and discreetly consulting his auto-cue when he didn't, that it was disconcerting to hear him falter so badly - during Roxanne no less which is one of his favourites. But George is quite the showman when he wants to be so he covered it up by singing some improvised lyrics with panache until he could pick things up again. After Roxanne he got maybe a bit rattled, there were a few more missed notes, and Freedom got off to a rocky start. Once again I marvelled at George's backing singers, following him so beautifully wherever he cares to lead them. "Not starting with the chorus today, then? OK boss, we can do that." I just love them!

By and large the crowd didn't care about or even notice the hiccups - they were too busy partying. They cheered and stood up for him and cheered some more and the show ended on a high note.
After the show I wondered what had happened - and it's testomony to his greatness that I even did. With anybody else a few missed notes wouldn't even register! With George it's so unusual that you do think about it. It could be he got a little tired and let his concentration slip just a bit. He had good reason to be tired - he'd had such a emotional week with the two Vienna Shows, meeting his docs again and getting used all over to the rhythm of touring. I'm just a fan and I am exhausted after the first week of Symphonica 2012! I felt for him, big star or no it must have been a lot to go through in a week.

And finally - how to leave the stage

We all know George is a creature of habit and doesn't like to change things around too much. Once he settles in his routine he sticks to it. If you go to a few shows you know exactly at which point in the show he's going to give us a "How you doing at the back" for instance. I quite like that to be honest.

On Sunday we got another glimpse of how deeply his Symphonica routine is edged into his mind. Because the Opera stage was so tiny he had to leave it through the wings. So he couldn't do his usual thing while leaving the stage. You know what I'm talking about, at the end of Feeling Good and the encores he bounces up those steps, with big energetic strides. Always fun to watch.

In Paris he ran up the steps after Feeling Good as usual only to come down again moments later and rather sheepishly jog towards the wings. It was a very funny moment and I was kicking myself for not getting it on video. Little did I know I'd get two more shots at it. At the end of the medley he once again ran up the steps to nowhere and had to return. Then it was time for White Light and I was sure this time he'd remember. After all it's only a few minutes later so he couldn't have forgotten, right? Wrong! For the third time in 20 minutes he walked the wrong way. Hee! But as I said he's quite the showman so he just stopped at the edge of the stage, and gave us a few waves and a bow before disappearing into the wings. Lovely man!

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