July 22, 2008

Nostalgia Carries George Michael Only so Far


If you've ever cleaned out the basement of your childhood home, you have a pretty good sense of what it was like to see George Michael on stage Monday night in the first show of a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden.

The first few notes of the enjoyable "Fast Love" felt like opening a long-sealed toy chest, brimming with forgotten relics, which, for the captive and near capacity audience, seemed to mark a rediscovery long in the making. Once the cheap high of nostalgia settled in, however, Michael's first stateside show in 17 years proved as erstwhile an investment as watching a marathon of VH1's "I Love the 80s."

This is not to say that Michael phoned it in. With his crow's feet hidden by lightly tinted glasses, and that smooth jaw line which in its day graced many a naive teenybopper's wall cloaked behind a 5 o'clock shadow, the popster-cum-activist-cum-tabloid- regular seemed young again, crossing the fully lit stage with all his old moves. These "old moves," however, while initially the show's biggest asset, proved, well, old.

Some old stuff worked, though. Stuff, like the Wham selections "I'm Your Man" and "Everything She Wants," which rocked with fully retained pop majesty backed by a three-tiered mega-band and an audience willing to wail along.

The tight-denimed rump-shaking that once embodied the '80s still held its non-threatening charm as well, proving more than parody busting from Michael's 45-year-old hips. But when the dancing was gone, slower tunes like "One More Try" and "Father Figure" showed their age.

Through it all, though as expected the crowd ate it up, a fact that was, at times, contagious but not enough to make the 20-plus song parade succeed beyond a few butt-shaking moments.

When the powerful "Star People '97" closed the first set and the crowd favorite "Faith" opened the second, it seemed like a pacesetter capable of getting the touch-and-go blend of adrenaline and sleepy nostalgia on track, but the remainder of the slower set relied heavily on newer stuff from albums like 2004's "Patience," which even Michael admitted was lost on U.S. audiences. With more tracks from the "Faith" album and the tighter Wham numbers, the first set proved the night's winner.

And the losers? Whether they realized it or not, they would have to be the poor dancing souls, some of whom dished out $250 to enjoy a show 17 years in the making and 20 years past its prime.

Sure, for a pair of captive hours, Michael gifted the audience the sentimentality and joy of shameless nostalgia. Once the play- date down memory lane was over, however, so too was the expensive novelty.


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