Thursday, 6 September 2012

Symphonica - Gig Report Vienna (September 4)

Close to 20.30 the moment we've all waited for is finally there; George Michael steps onto the stage of the Wiener Stadhalle to rapturous applause. Clad in yet another beautiful suit, dark purple with a white shirt this time, and looking the picture of good health.

Looking very sexy in his new suit!
He's just a tad late, nearly 10 months late to be precise. But dear God, this is one time we didn't mind waiting for George! For a few awful weeks last year it looked like we would have to say goodbye to our man forever. As George himself will tell us in song later that night it took a great deal of music, science and the fervent prayers of his loved ones, fans and everyone else who wished him well to bring him safely through. So this show is above all else a celebration of life. And today life is good for George, that much is clear right from the start.

One sentence review: George Michael is BACK!!!

Life is good

George Michael looks very handsome and happy to be back where he belongs - on a stage. He's singing with his eyes closed and his hand on his heart as always and it's like he's never been away. And thus the show is a mixture of the familiar - most of the songs of last year are back, and he introduces them in the same way - and the very special.

Throughout most of the show George is very matter-of-fact about performing again, picking things up where he left off. It's almost as if he were asking the audience: "Now then, where had we got to?" But of course the  thought that things could have been very different is never far from all our minds; the undercurrent of emotion is quite strong. It all comes out in this one question George asks the crowd early on: "Isn't it great to be alive?" Aww, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see him so happy, so in love with life.

Highlight of the night

Last night was pretty awesome so it's hard to pick just one highlight. So here are a couple of them.

I loved all the new songs, so those were definitely highlights. But the Song of the Night for me was Going To A Town. That was the one moment in the whole show I got a bit weepy, the rest of the night I was simply too happy for tears. His voice, his beautiful voice. So phenomenal, so confident! George has made Going To A Town into a monumental song, a song that is "all George"! After Symphonica it is impossible for me to even think of anybody else performing it. It just seems tailor-made for his magnificent voice and all he can do with it.

Speaking of George's voice, that was a highlight in it's own right. All night he hit every note just right, getting to all the high notes and belting out all the difficult parts with deceptive ease. His voice was very warm and full, and just incredible. Once more I was in total awe of his vocal abilities. He was just magical. And big props to mr Bradshaw, the Symphonica sound man, for letting that magic shine through so well.

Another highlight for me was seeing all those little George Michael mannerisms again. Like reading a beloved and cherished book for the umpteenth time, just a wonderful feeling. There was the characteristic way George fiddles with the controlbox of his In Ear Monitors. Somehow he manges to turn the simple act of turning the volume up or down into an oddly sexy George Michael gesture, I've never seen any other artist do it quite like that.
And after the first couple of songs the smirk made a fleeting appearance, telling us that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Of course we'd already knew this because he'd shown us that famous George Michael smile long before that!
And finally there was the return of the George Michael strut and oh, how I'd missed that. George always moves so gracefully, but he's got that slightly goofy way of walking across the stage that is uniquely his. He tends to walk with a slightly stiff back, that nice butt of his stuck out! It's probably to do with the back operation he's had and the rod in his back. I think it's very cute!

But the ultimate feel-good highlight of the night didn't take place on stage at all. For me, it was seeing George's dad shuffle through the crowd, his laminated triple A Symphonica pass swinging on his belly, to take his seat just 2 seats behind me. Lots of fans came up to talk to him of course, and he took it all in his stride. Mr. Panayiotou was beaming with pride and love for his son. It was a sight to see. This was not about a relative of an international pop star attending the opening night of his latest show. Here was a father who was overjoyed to see his son doing so well after a life-threatening illness. I was deeply moved, and happy for him all over again. This is the moment that defined for me what last night was all about and I'll treasure the memory forever.

Team Symphonica - together again at last

Of course I missed George these last months, but - and this may come as a surprise to some - I may have missed the whole Symphonica team even more. This huge crew (all musicians and technical personnel) is such an amazing bunch of talented people, all stars in their own right because George always surrounds himself with the best. It was such a shame to see such a great team broken up so abruptly. So I was more than happy to see them all in action again.

Henry Hey was his usual sunny self behind the piano. It was great to see him following George again everywhere with his eyes, getting the feel again for George's rhythm in Going To A Town. And I giggled aloud when I saw mr. Hey's reaction to White Light. He gave us a sort of bemused look - heh, maybe dance music isn't really his thing. But still he was tapping his feet to the beat and enjoying himself I think. I'm glad that they integrated the orchestra rendition of Free into the show proper, so it gets appreciated more. They all deserve their own spot on the setlist and their very own applause.

Symphonica looks as beautiful as ever. Impeccable lighting and beautiful background visuals. Some visuals have had a bit of a make-over and of course there were entirely new visuals for the new songs. I was especially impressed with the background visuals for Father Figure - they were breathtaking.  I also hadn't yet seen the new visuals for Going To A Town (the burning cross etc.) that were shown at the last concerts of 2011 and I found them very poignant.

Of course George's official chair bringer is also back, and the poor guy had to work really hard! He almost bumped into George in the first half of the show and no wonder - so much running on and off stage to be done.

Before the start of the show I was lucky to spot George's official blogger, Bev. Her hair was a little longer, but her smile was just as infectious as last year. She's like a good pied piper of Symphonica. Wherever she went fans came out of their seats - even if they were seated  in the middle of the row - to say hi or to ask to have their picture taken for the fanclub website. Some even asked for a picture of themselves standing next to her! Bev is very popular with the fans and it's completely earned, she's lovely.

The (Symphonica) show goes on

So yeah, there was great music, lots of it, with some nice surprises along the way! In celebration of the happy occasion there were three (!) new songs added to the setlist. The first was Father Figure and I was pleasantly surprised with the Symphonica arrangement of this all-time fan-favourite. It's never been a favourite of mine but this version I really liked. Not in small part because of the excellent backing vocals provided by our four singing angels. I will never tire of hearing them wrap their voices around George's vocals, they're so good at that it's scary!

Then there was Waiting For That Day, to kick off the second part of the show. So cool and exactly what was needed in that particular spot in the setlist: a little bit of oomph. The crowd lapped it up. Halfway through the song George slipped into his 25Live persona, I always love it when that happens. It just so fun, instant party atmosphere! He even let us sing a little bit, going for a sort of call and response at the end with the Rolling Stones riff. You can't always get what you want! True, but tonight we got plenty.

We had to wait till the encores to hear the third new song. But it was definitely worth the wait.


So the big question on my mind before the show was would we get to hear White Light? If there ever was a place and a time to sing this song live, surely it was here in Vienna on his first proper concert  of 2012, in front of the medical staff that saved his life? Well, George said as much in his introduction of the song!
Some people standing in front of the stage were calling for White Light just before he announced it, and he pulled this adorable face, sort of disappointed we had guessed what he was up to. Funny guy!

I was dying to hear White Light  live. I know it's nearly sacrilege to say it but I'm not the worlds biggest fan of this song. Of course the song is so special and the lyrics are pure George, brilliant as ever. But as a dance song I like Every Other Lover better. (It happens, we can't all like the same stuff.)

Still, I knew it would be very special indeed to see George perform White Light from a few feet away. And it really was! It all came together for me, the video of White Light playing on the big screen behind George, the pulsating beat, the feeling of love and gratitude flowing between George and the crowd. I loved it!

I don't know how long White Light will remain on the setlist so I feel very lucky to have heard it. George  was laughing with pure joy, walking along the stage with that big grin of his on his face, stopping in various spots to dance for the ecstatic fans in front of him. It was a perfect end to a perfect night. George is back and he's here to stay!

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