NOTE: This was originally published in August 2008 after George Michael’s 2008 concert in Sunrise, the final stop on his first U.S. tour in 17 years. Michael died on Dec. 25, 2016, at age 53.
On Sunday night's final stop of his first U.S. tour in 17 years, a tardy George Michael finally emerged on stage at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise to the accompaniment of Waiting for That Day, wearing a black suit, a silver cross and a weathered face that's known a drink or two and some hard times. Instantly, as he belted out Here I AM, he was greeted with the veneration accorded to the second coming of the disco Christ.
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At times, the 25 LIVE concert was on the brink of going out -- like the 1980s -- with a whimper, rather than a bang. Michael was suffering from a cold that prevented him from taking stabs at higher notes and, no doubt, was a contributing factor to the sense that he was pacing himself.
But he had the crowd from the start, as the show slid into Fastlove, I'm Your Man from the Wham years and Father Figure, and Michael cheered on the multitudes with "We got a lot of partying to do. And I know Fort Lauderdale remembers the '80s. Just imagine Mom and Dad with three to four times more hair, and you have 1984."
Many in the crowd -- apart from the genius amateur impersonator in the lobby channeling the middle-period George Michael and the seething-with-irony young girls in Frankie Say Relax T-shirts and black fishnet stockings with cut-offs -- were still living in a non-ironic 1980s Broward County bubble, sporting epic, non-God-given boobage, big hair and, for the men, Flock of Seagulls-meets-the-Davi-mullet haircuts.
In this way-too-measured epoch, Michael taps into a deep, atavistic yearning for fun with the brakes off. The audience encompassed chubby, middle-aged Bozos who took off their shirts and yelled ("George Michael, I've loved you since I was 14") as Michael exhorted "Let's hear it for my gay boys." And there seemed to be endless trios of 30ish Three Graces sirens in their halter tops, jeans and pre-teen dreams, recalling the time when Michael was sexy and non-threatening, everything a 12-year-old girl could want from a sex symbol.
The women were still in love, enraptured in a willful suspension of feminine disbelief, as if Michael might somehow renounce his homosexuality on stage and suddenly take up with a West Broward party girl who's had way too many knocks in life. Michael didn't sell 85 million records without understanding showbiz or the march of pop history, and the concert was post-modern vaudeville in step with the age of Follies goes Vegas, a life told in song.
The staging, an enormous video screen running down the walls and draped over the edge of the stage, allowed Michael to do his trademark sideways jerk dance over his tabloid dream career recast as a video game.
The imagery spanned Michael and former Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley in Choose Life T-shirts lounging by a pool like modern-day Brideshead Revisited characters, to the Freedom 90 supermodel period with Linda Evangelista and such and the easy gravitas of John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon accompanying John & Elvis Are Dead.
All of modern popular culture was there in a glorious, gay-Elvis kind of way, from the gospel-tinged One More Try with Michael in the middle of a praise circle formed by a phalanx of African-American back-up singers, to Outside, his response to the tabloids. The song reflects his "don't have time for the haters" period and his cheering on of California's allowing everyone the hard-fought right to "marry who the f--- we want to."
For Outside, a video helicopter swooped over Los Angeles, and Michael changed into a police uniform that had unfortunate Village People overtones. Then again, what other response works for a string of substance-abuse driving arrests and the notorious 1998 incident of Michael's arrest in a public restroom for solicitation? It was perfect pop redemption. After a 20-minute intermission, Michael charged through some classics: Faith, Spinning the Wheel, Amazing, Careless Whisper and, of course, Freedom.
The concert was an evening with a true pro, an entertainer who understands that we all want our stars to suffer before redeeming themselves in pageantry and comebacks. Thankfully, the times have changed since the '80s, and a star can now be openly gay and still reel in the masses, all while providing a night of pure pleasure.