George Michael began his first North American tour in 17 years on Tuesday at the San Diego Sports Arena, standing onstage just as we last saw him: stylishly unshaven, in black suit and shades, swaying his hips while singing to ecstatic fans (from 1996’s “Fastlove”), “Got to get up to get down!”
The show was heavy with anxious, funky riffs and smoove R&B pop, and without special effects beyond a trio of massive, curving video screens that unfolded across the stage like a tongue toward his crowd. They sparkled with cascading blue-and-red stars for the opening acoustic guitar riff and Michael wailing: “So here I am!” from “Waiting (Reprise).” For the next two hours (plus a 20-minute intermission), Michael performed hits and new songs from his just-released retrospective album, Twenty-Five.
Among the new songs was “Feeling Good,” which began as a soulful a cappella lament before shifting into a brassy rumble as the big screens behind him filled up with images of Dita Von Tease stripping down to her glittery pasties as she stepped into a giant champagne glass. Most fans were on their feet the entire concert, and Michael thanked those “people whose knowledge of me doesn’t end with ‘Faith.’ You are the people I’m playing for.” (For everyone else, “Faith” baby-tees were on sale for $40 in the lobby.)
His current 25 LIVE Tour across the U.S. follows 80 shows across Europe. His band could be seen stacked on three levels of scaffolding between the video screens, all dressed in elegant black. On either side of the stage, Michael had matching sets of backup singers: each one with a bald dude, a thin woman singer and one zaftig shouter, all singing harmonies drenched in gospel and modern soul, everyone in balance. It was feng shui live. And all of them stood behind him during “Father Figure,” singing and snapping their fingers to the heartbreak beat.
The British singer seemed especially happy to be back in California. “I saw a couple of ladies getting married on TV yesterday,” he said, referring to the first day of the state granting legal marriages to gays and lesbians. “It’s about fucking time.”
Michael sang of golddiggers on “Everything She Wants,” and turned dreamy and romantic on “A Different Corner.” He showed old video footage during Wham!’s excited “I’m Your Man” and slowed down for a jazzy take on “Roxanne” by the Police. He was most animated at the very end, as he closed with the still-stirring “Freedom,” his hands raised high, testifying like an evangelist for self-determination. Then he was on his knees, giving the “I’m not worthy” bow several times towards his fans. His crowd roared back, still dancing to the music, suggesting that maybe he was.