Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig Report Royal Albert Hall (September 29)

Late last year around the time of the postponed Earls Court shows my wife and I spent a few pleasant days in London - our flight was non-refundable and spending time in London during Advent isn't exactly a chore. We booked tickets for Messiah, the Christmas Carol Singalong and Carols by Candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall, with the Christmas Carol Singalong the clear winner entertainment-wise. It was an absolute riot - the private boxes were decorated with tinsel and Christmas lights, the crowd and the big choir on stage were doing the wave and absolutely everyone in the audience from 0 to 99 was having a wonderful time! We had seats in the Choir section with a perfect view of the whole auditorium and I can honestly say it was the most fun I've ever had for £15!

I thought I couldn't love the Hall more than I did that day but Saturday night was just as good! George gave us a perfect show at a perfect venue and what more can you ask for as a fan?

Finally a nice photo of the backing vocalists

One sentence review: A perfect George in a perfect venue!

A few minutes after  George's first ever show at the Royal Albert Hall had finished on October 25 2011 we sneaked into Loggia Box 15 to enjoy the view we would have the next day. Taking in the beautiful interior of the box - all dark wood and red velvet, my wife and I grinned at each other in happy anticipation and I sent out a tweet: I'm now sitting where we'll be sitting tomorrow: in a box, watching them wrap up the harp. Little did we know that 'tomorrow' wouldn't come for months and months. But after two postponements we finally got to make a fantastic George Michael weekend out of it.

It was a magical GM weekend
And it was well worth the wait! Sitting in a box is a wonderful luxury, you can order some drinks and refreshment to be brought to your box before the show, there is a coat rack to get rid of all your stuff and if you're in the first row of the box like we were there's a broad railing where you can rest the camera you're not supposed to bring for extra stability while you're filming!

One of the reasons I love the Royal Albert Hall is because it's such a cosy venue. I've seen Symphonica in venues with even less seats but what makes the Hall with its 5000 seats so unique is the feeling  we're all just sitting in a little circle around our best friend singing a few songs by the fire. As George himself told us a few songs in: "I'd forgotten how close you all are here". And it's true! Even way up in the Gallery you don't feel as disconnected from the show as you will feel at the same height at other venues.

 Such a  cosy venue!
I've been to the Hall for quite a few shows now and have been seated all over the auditorium: Choir, Stalls, Circle and Arena. The sound is great almost everywhere and the views is always great. Mind you, the view of the stage isn't necessarily that great from every seat in the house but the view of the Hall in all its splendour certainly is. I really hope that if George ever tours again he'll give us some more shows at the Royal Albert Hall because for me George Michael plus Royal Albert Hall equals pure bliss.

Symphonica loves the Royal Albert Hall

Amazing lighting!
What can I say? Symphonica is such a classy show and it looks its absolute best at the Royal Albert Hall. It's simply made for that venue and I can't rave about this enough! Sitting a bit further away and a little higher than usual I had a clear view of all the little things that make Symphonica such a special show. Here are a couple of details you might not yet have seen or known about.

During Father Figure the lights on the stage pulse on and off with the beat, it's an incredible cool effect. Makes it almost impossible to take a nice photo though, unless you have a super fast camera. Mine is rather slow so I never catch the light for my pics. Oh well.

When Russian Roulette starts up we get to see the disco lights of Symphonica. If you've been to one of the stadium shows of 25Live in 2007 you'll know what I'm talking about. The lights just above the curtain light up and throb with that mighty bass rhythm. I'd never seen that before - again very cool effect.
Another incredible effect I got to see during the Cowboys and Angels.

Song of the Night

On this magical night where my own dream of sitting in a RAH private box finally came true there could only be one possible choice for song of the night: Cowboys And Angels. It's a beautiful song and George always gives it his all but tonight it was extra special. You see, it was Ed Barker's first time at the Hall - he's the man who gives us that songs great sax solo - and as he tweeted before the show it was a dream come true for him to play there. And no wonder, who wouldn't want to play at the Royal Albert Hall and join that illustrious group of performers like Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Elton John and so on. So when I heard George announce Ed I was very happy for him, and hoped his big moment was everything he dreamt it would be (he tweeted later that it had indeed been unbelievable!)

Ed Barker's big moment!
Because I was sitting a bit further away I noticed a fun detail that I hadn't seen before: when Ed is playing and George is singing they are connected on the big screen by a sort of musical staff and the tones travel from one man to the other. Details like that always make me sigh happily about Symphonica. What a wonderful show they all made!

The Royal Albert Hall loves Symphonica

Well, this was a nice crowd! Very, very appreciative of everything George did, be it singing  dancing or talking it always got a huge reaction. But - and this is regretfully not always the case with a UK crowd - you could hear a pin drop during the slow songs. Everyone seemingly held their breath during the song but erupted in cheers and applause the second the song was over. George loved it. On some songs we all sang along with him and he loved that too!

London George

No "London nerves" for George this time around, his return to the Albert Hall was a complete triumph. He sang like an angel, danced till he was out of breath and was very, very funny. If you haven't already done so take a look at the twitterfeed of Bev - the official blogger of the Symphonica Tour (@GeorgemOfficial) and the the dutch twitterteam (@GeorgeMichaelNL) for all the jokes.

George looked gorgeous at the Royal Albert Hall
It was lovely to see George back to his old, chatty self. My favourite bit was his playful teasing of David Austin. David nearly always gets a mention as co-writer of John And Elvis Are Dead but for one night only he also got a mention as co-writer of that beautiful You Have Been Loved. Because George jokingly said David had complained about never getting any credit for it! So George asked for a cheer for David in the first and the second half of the show and the audience was all too happy to oblige.

Just before the medley George even introduced his whole band again, which is always a highlight for me. Tonight he made it all the way through to Jay Henry before slipping up. Poor Jay will now go by the name of Jenny, which really isn't a good name for the man with the nicest biceps in Symphonica.

And finally - poor George, poor fans

This was just a magical night and I really wished it would never end. But end it did and not happily.  When we got back to our hotel I went on-line as I always do after a show to check out Facebook and twitter and read to my dismay (but not surprise) that George had been forced to cancel his Australian tour. Apparently he's been suffering from post-traumatic stress, resulting in "major anxiety". After the end of the UK tour he will finally go for the counselling he so desperately needs but had been hoping to avoid all year by throwing himself into his work and the tour(s).

I feel so sad for the Australian fans, twice now they've been looking forward to seeing George and twice it has been taken away from them. I also feel incredibly sorry George, we all know how much he hates disappointing his fans so I believe him when he says that it breaks his heart to have to do this.

Knowing from personal experience how soul-destroying and disruptive in all aspects of life post-traumatic stress can be my heart aches for George. Having gone through extensive trauma treatment myself I can tell you there is good news and bad news. The bad news: trauma counselling is unbelievably hard to go through, might take longer than one thinks one can bear and will hurt like hell. The good news: things are better now then they were 10 or 15 years ago. There are many evidence-based therapy options out there, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based therapy to name but a few. Those therapies do work and will take away the pain and anxiety or at least help one to handle them much better.

So I know George will beat this, just as he's beaten everything life has thrown at him these last few years. But I also think he's in for a rough ride and that saddens me. I think we all wanted him to have an easier life for a while but alas it wasn't to be. But there's an enormous amount of love and support out there for George and White Light is testimony to the fact that he's aware of this and can draw strength from it. So I will pray for George, not that I ever stopped.

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