Review: George Michael - Symphonica Tour, State Opera House, Prague
George Michael’s career is not without its ups and downs. A year ago, the star spent four weeks in prison after being convicted of crashing his Range Rover into the window of Snappy Snaps in Hampstead while under the influence of cannabis. Last night he began his comeback, as he launched his Symphonica orchestral tour in the lush surroundings of the State Opera House in Prague.
It was his first live show for three years and begged one major question: could George still cut it?
He answered in the affirmative with a typically rollercoaster two-hour show that was in turns moving, surprising, funny and confessional, but was never less than stylish. He claims to be in recovery and turning his life around, and looked in Prague to have rediscovered his zest and mojo.
The tour’s format sees Michael playing his own material, covers and old standards with classical orchestras across Europe, and he threw himself into every song, from Nina Simone’s swing-jazz classic My Baby Just Cares For Me to New Order’s True Faith and Terence Trent D’Arby’s Let Her Down Easy. He also ventured into obscure areas of his own back catalogue, playing both Kissing A Fool and It Doesn’t Really Matter live for the first time.
Looking slimmed-down in black suit and shades, Michael was in typically indiscreet form, admitting before covering Rufus Wainwright’s Going To A Town that he phoned Wainwright to congratulate him on his last album but was so stoned that he passed out during the call! His set kept the audience on their toes with Great Depression-era jazz standard Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? and an explosive take on Rihanna’s Russian Roulette segueing into his own perennially classy angst-anthem, You Have Been Loved.
As ever, Michael wore his heart on his sleeve. Surrounded by giant images of Amy Winehouse, he paid a fulsome tribute to the tragic singer (“In 30 years of making music, I was never in awe of anyone new on the UK scene before her”) before easing into a poignant, sympathetically received version of Love Is A Loving Game. However, George’s biggest bombshell was still to come.
Michael revealed to the Prague audience that his relationship with his long-term partner, Kenny Goss, has ended: “My battles with substances are well-documented and Kenny also has his own demons, mainly alcohol. This man has brought me a lot of joy and a lot of pain but in truth we have not been together for two-and-a-half years.” His “apology” to Goss took the form of a string-laden ballad, Where I Hope You Are, that he described as: “The best thing I’ve written in years – because I’m just so sad about it.”
Ending the evening there would have been a major downer so Michael lifted the mood with a brass-heavy romp through Nina Simone’s sublime Feeling Good followed by the Stevie Wonder song, You & I, that he recorded for Wills and Kate’s wedding, before encoring with a sing-a-long medley of his own Wham! and solo dance-pop chart-toppers in Amazing, I’m Your Man and Freedom.
It was a momentous comeback show, full of humour, emotional and musical surprises and compulsively candid confessionals. It is very George Michael.