Thursday, 25 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig report London EC (October 17)

Well, you've come a long way", said the man at the box office in Manchester after glancing at my address before he handed me my ticket. He touched a nerve and for one second I asked myself what I was doing so far away from home. And then I forgot all about it till I was walking with another fan, the wonderful Trish (@TrishJweb) back to the Earls Court subway on the evening of October 17, 2012. It was lovely to see her again after we had spent a very nice evening together at the last of the Royal Albert Hall shows; she was the fan who sold me her spare ticket so I could go to the sold-out show. We were discussing the show we'd just seen - that's always so nice about meeting up with other fans.

We got close to the entrance of the station, and  I got my Oyster card out of my pocket. Trish looked at me in wonder: "You've got an Oyster card!", she exclaimed. "Of course", I said and then it hit me, I live in the Netherlands and have a London Oyster card for travel on the London subway while Trish who lives an hour away from London doesn't have one!  Thing is, I've been in and out of London for Symphonica (and before that 25Live) so often that I finally realized getting an Oyster card was the smart thing to do.

It's all worth it to hear that voice and to see that smile!

Because of Symphonica I now know my way around the airports of Verona, Rotterdam, Vienna, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Heathrow and I've seen every single departure halls of the Amsterdam Airport multiple times. I stayed in many hotels, youth hostels and B&B's, some were just fabulous and some were decidedly less so. I caught that dreadful Symphonica flu both in 2011 and 2012. I took countless bus and train rides to get all to those arenas and back. And yes, it was all worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Seeing George Michael up close is such a privilege
The feeling of wonder and awe at seeing this man I admire so much up close never fades. It's still exactly the same mixture of disbelief and excitement that swept over me six years ago in Oberhausen, on October 14 2006, when I first laid eyes on George in the flesh - and suit!. The doors of the 25Live stage opened up and there he was. I couldn't believe that it was really him, looking so smart and sexy in that glittering black 25Live suit. With tears in my eyes I got to my feet to join in the standing ovation. Since then the tears at seeing George have gone (I'm not a 15 year old girl after all!), but the awe remains. I feel so lucky and so privileged that I was able to spend so much time, effort and money to see him as often as I could.

George in London

Being back in London George went back to his lines of 25Live: "Can I hear from my gay boys?" I love that and as I'm all for equal opportunity (George has got quit a few lesbian fans after all) I scream along with all the gay men in the audience. I love how he touches on the subject of gay rights in his introduction to Going To A Town, night after night. It's an understated but powerful statement about his life, and his way of loving.

I agree with George: it's important not to believe the US Religious Right!

On the last night of the Symphonica tour he gave us this great improvised speech on his views on the whole debate about gay marriage. As usual George had some pretty interesting things to say about the subject. It all boiled down to him pleading with his UK audience to please not buy into the views of the American Religious Right. And warning the crowd about the trickle-down effect the US anti-gay rhetoric has. I totally agree with him there, 15 years ago no-one in Europe but a few really odd people were talking about "the gay lifestyle" (what the heck is that anyway?), but now it's seems a widely accepted concept.
I still think George would be great as a spokesman about gay rights, he's very eloquent and he's got a lot of great things to say.

Song of the night

It's hard to get a good pic of Freedom because when George says "I wanna see your arms",  he means it!

Without a doubt: Freedom! I love that song so much, and it's become such an anthem. I've seen this song break down the resistance of even the stuffiest of people. Once George gets going with Freedom and all our hands are in the air they just have to follow suit, they just can't help themselves.

What made me smile

George thanked his band individually for the last time and did it flawlessly. Phil Palmer gave George a thumbs up when he had no trouble remembering Phil's name. Too funny!

There was one moment in the medley when the voices of the backing vocalists were pulled up in the mix and you could hear them more clearly than ever before during Symphonica and oh my they sounded so good! I wish they'd release a single, just the four of them - well maybe George could be on it as well singing back up to them for a chang ! But seriously, I don't know if this particular line-up of Jay, Shirley, Lucy and Lincoln is exclusive to George, but if it's not any other artist should run not walk to their manager and ask him or her to book this fabulous four voices like NOW.

These four must be among the best backing vocalists in the world!
I smiled when I saw how many gifts and hugs Bev, the official blogger got from us fans before the show. I'm not quite sure if all the gifts made it across the Atlantic, she might have needed an extra bag to carry them all,  sorry about that Bev but we meant well.

Seeing Symphonica for the very last time made me smile a bitter-sweet smile of goodbye. Goodbye red curtain, I hope they find another good use for you. You're much too beautiful to be gathering dust in a closet somewhere.
Good bye to all security guards and stewards. Some of you were just rejoicing in your power to say no to us fans or make our lives miserable on our big night out. Some of you were very nice indeed - the stewards at the M.E.N Arena and Royal Albert Hall were simply wonderful! Most of you were just doing your job though as best you could and I thank you for that.
Goodbye to those long, long lines for the ladies restroom in the interval. Knowing when the interval would start gave me and advantage and I made good use of it, I'd be out of my seat and literally running towards the queue the second the curtain had closed on George. I got pretty good at multi-tasking, standing in line I'd fire off a few tweets and change my SD-card and battery for my camera.
Goodbye to all those cramped seats, I really won't miss you! The best seats by far could be found in the Amsterdam Ziggo Dome, the Birmingham LG Arena and of course the Stalls in the Royal Albert Hall - swivel seats!

What made me grumble

Well, it's not really a grumble so much as the sad realisation that no, we wouldn't get a live DVD of Symphonica - as far as I know no official filming took place anywhere. I'm in two minds about his. On the one hand I can understand full well that with all that was going on with him George simply wasn't up to filming this show. On the other hand everything inside me was pleading: "Please George, you can't let a show this good, this wonderful sink into obscurity". All those great vocal performances,  all those stunning background visuals - all gone without proof they were ever there. I gotta admit, it made me sad.

Amazing Symphonica

So, that's it then, Symphonica is finished! We've had 2 years filled with beautiful music. There's been so much laughter, so much joy. There have been tears of worry and fear when George was so ill. And there were tears of joy and gratitude when it emerged that yes, George would survive and and yes, he would still be able to sing and make music. But I think that for me what will remain as the defining memory of Symphonica is the sight of George smiling at our applause and the sound of that beautiful, warm voice touching my very soul.

Verona September 2011. Getting ready for the best show of 2011
I've been to a lot of Symphonica shows in 2011 and 2012 and enjoyed every single one of them. Some I enjoyed simply for the excellent company (my trip to Paris with @MissHoefje and @herrybabe!), some I enjoyed because George gave us an awesome performance. All were great and gave me memories I will treasure forever. 

Herning August 29 2011 - George was so sad that night I wanted to give him a big hug!
So what were the best shows I saw? Playing favourites is a bit unfair, as they're all special in their own way. But still, these are the five shows I loved best - in no particular order. Although I guess Verona and Amsterdam are definitely in first and second place.
  • Verona, September 14 2001
    Whenever I think Symphonica, I think Verona! It's been more than a year and I still can't quite believe I was really there in the warm night in that beautiful old open-air arena hearing George give one of his best vocal performances of the 2011 tour. For me this was by far the best show of 2011. 
  • Amsterdam, October 21 2001
    Such fun! We had great seats, George was in a fantastic mood, couldn't stop chatting and joking with us and sang like an angel. And ... gospel!
  • Manchester, October 9 2012
    Another amazing show! Front row, centre middle floor block. George was in wonderful mood, and gave us two new songs. Plus .. George as a starstruck fan!
  • London Royal Albert Hall, September 29 2012
    A fabulous night out with my wife in a Loggia Box at my favourite venue! And oh yes, George was there too and gave a great performance!
  • Herning, August 29 2011
    My first Symphonica show and I still get chills just thinking about it! George was so emotional that night, and so good! I was blown away!
  • And bubbling just below the top 5: Cardiff, October 5 2012.
    The bra! Need I say more?
George and the flawless breasts of Dita von Teese - a weird combination, but it works!

And finally - not all tears are bad tears

Before the show with the amazing Bev in the middle and the lovely Shirley (@mollie5555) on the left. 

Twice on Wednesday night I got all weepy. The first time was half an hour before the show even started. I'd just given Bev a hug and a little gift and it dawned on me that most likely I would never see this lovely woman again. In so many ways Bev became the face of Symphonica, for me and I guess for so many others as well. From mid Sepember 2011 on when she joined the tour, she was always there with a smile and a nice word for all the fans. She only missed a show or two back  in 2011 when she was felled by that nasty Symphonica flu all of us got sooner or later. We all grew to love her and treated her more and more like one of us, like the fellow superfan she slowly revealed herself to be. So saying goodbye to Bev was a sad occasion and sitting down in my seat I shed a few tears. I bloody hate saying goodbye.

Please be well, George and take care of yourself!

And then of course there was George. I looked at him all through the show and imagined him to be both sad and relieved that it was all coming to an end. Sad because I believe he loves seeing our joy when he's singing to us, relieved because I genuinely believe these 6 weeks of touring were pretty tough for him. Watching him I felt mostly happy for him because now that he was stepping back out of the limelight he could finally take the time to let himself heal properly.

But then I Remember You started up for the very last time and all those unselfish thoughts gave way to a deep sadness. I had to say goodbye to my favourite singer and it might be a long time - if ever - before I got to see him in concert again. And so I felt the tears burn behind my eyes.

Tears of sadness but also tears of gratitude, for all the beautiful music George had given to us with the incredible Symphonica. And then he gave us that final gesture with his outstretched arm which I love so much, taking all of us home with him for the very last time. But it was when he said what he's always said at the end of a Symphonica show that the tears finally fell. "See you soon and take care of yourself" Indeed, George. Dear man, thank you for everything; now please take care of yourself and be well.

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