First Night: George Michael - Symphonica Tour, State Opera House, Prague

Holding back the tears, Michael restores faith in a magical voice

Ben Walsh
Tuesday 23 August 2011 00:00 BST

"I've got to admit I'm shitting myself," George Michael tells us. The "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" singer has justifiably got the jitterbugs. It's been a turbulent couple of decades, and tonight is an emotional, confessional gig (Michael is close to tears on three occasions).

There hasn't been a great deal of new material since his mid-Nineties peak, but there has been plenty of incident: the LA lavatory fiasco ("Zip Me Up Before You Go Go", as one tabloid memorably put it), the car crash into a Hampstead Snappy Snaps, the record label wrangling (he tells us he's still livid with Sony), the drug-taking (tonight he admits to passing out while talking on the phone to Rufus Wainwright because he was "puffing" at the time) and the short time served At Her Majesty's pleasure. But, as the 48-year-old from East Finchley once maintained, you gotta have faith. And that faith is more than confirmed at George Michael's unusual and occasionally powerful Symphonica Tour concert, accompanied by a full orchestra, in this intimate, neo-rococo-style classical venue in Prague.

The former Wham! man has always been a captivating live performer, possessing an exquisite soul voice that provided one of the best interpretations of a Stevie Wonder song (sadly absent here, but there are perhaps a tad too many covers) on still his best body of work, 1990's Listen without Prejudice, a superior pop album which he dips his costly shoes into tonight. He serves up a rare performance of "Cowboys and Angels" and is suitably agonised on "Praying for Time". But, in the main, this is about his crooning re-interpretations of other artists. Covering New Order's "True Faith" and The Police's "Roxanne" feel like an error, but there are some audacious covers too, namely Terence Trent D'Arby's underrated "Let Her Down Easy", a rousing rendition of Rihanna's "Russian Roulette" and Rufus Wainwright's weary "Tired of America".

However, Michael's observations and banter, often delivered from a Val Doonican-style stool, are laced with melancholy, loss and bitterness ("People like to make an exception for me," he lashes out at one point; some of the Prague audience look baffled). He confesses that he hasn't been with his partner, Kenny Goss, for two-and-a-half years, before launching into his maudlin new song "Where I Hope You Are". He chokes back tears before a rarity, "It Doesn't Matter", from Older. He looks most devastated before covering Amy Winehouse's "Love Is A Losing Game", informing us: "I'm in awe of this lady, the thought we won't be hearing her music anymore is so sad beyond words." He's right, but come on, cheer up George.

Frankly, it's a relief when we return to familiar ground. "A Different Corner" is still an enduring pop record and his plea "And if all that there is, is this fear of being used/ I should go back to being lonely and confused/ If I could, I would, I swear" is still poignant. We're not blessed with "Faith", "Careless Whisper", "Father Figure" or Wham! absurdities such as "Club Tropicana", but there's a giddy, thankfully jollier encore which includes "I'm Your Man" (the audience rise to their feet) and "Freedom".

A strange, earnest evening, which often feels like a warm-up gig, but in among the numerous confessions ("The truth is my love life has been a lot more turbulent than I've let on.") there's some sumptuous ballads. You've gotta have faith...

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