During a set filled with torch songs and tender croons, one of the most poignant moments came with George Michael’s simple declaration of thanks to his sold-out crowd.
“I know you had to wait a year and I know it's been a tough year,” he said, referring both to the life-threatening bout of pneumonia which saw this date on his Symphonica tour rescheduled from last year and to the clearly heartfelt devotion of his huge army of fans.
For a man who reportedly underwent an emergency tracheotomy as part of his treatment he was in fine voice, although admittedly the format of Symphonica doesn’t particularly lend itself to exertion. Despite being all-seated, the audience was here for the arena spectacular, but what they got was the club show. In an aerodrome-sized hall, it was an odd fit.
Over two halves and backed by an orchestra as well as a full acoustic band, the set delivered a selection of covers alongside Michael’s slower songs. Appearing on a large, curtain-wrapped cylindrical stage and dressed all in black bar a purple blazer and reflective shades, the 49-year-old explored one side of his muse thoroughly, although for a man who magnetises controversy it all threatened to get a bit unadventurous at times.
Of his own songs "Father Figure" and "Kissing a Fool" were particularly suited to the format, while "John and Elvis Are Dead" found room to breathe as both a poignant reflection on lost youth and a recontextualised look into the abyss of nostalgia which might await the memory of a late rock star. The covers, meanwhile, fell somewhere between open goals and positively contrary choices.
In the former category stood a slowed-down version of the Police’s "Roxanne" (accompanied by a wonderfully brash film of glamorous Amsterdam hookers working the streets: “no actresses, all real tits,” noted Michael) and separate takes on Nina Simone’s "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and "Feeling Good". In the latter category, New Order’s "True Faith" vocodered to within an inch of its life and Rihanna’s "Russian Roulette", trad rather than “a bit modern”.
It was all very pleasant, in some cases too much so, but the first encore teased us with what we had been missing – a lively acoustic medley of his dancefloor stompers "Amazing", "I’m Your Man" and "Freedom 90". These, and even the finale of clubby recent hit "White Light", were but a taste of what we might have hoped to hear much more of.