Gotta Get Up To Get Down - George Michael's Twenty-Five Live at the Forum

Los Angeles, CA, USA; Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

by Melanie Love

I’m not really one for guilty pleasures. I like what I like, whether it’s a weepy Coldplay ballad, driving along to old Backstreet Boys hits, or in this case, George Michael. But though he’s more associated with the bubblegum choruses and short-shorts of his Wham! days, over the years Michael has proven himself as a more than competent songwriter and cemented his chops as a tremendous singer. And there’s no better evidence of that than seeing him live on his Twenty-Five Live tour, which has him delving through his rich back catalogue for the first time in fifteen years (and seventeen since he last hit the States.)

“The last time I played here was 1988; I was twenty-five. I hope by the end of tonight, you’ll have forgiven me for my absence -- in fact, I'm going to make sure you forgive me. We’ll have a fucking wicked time!” Michael promised near the beginning of the jam-packed show, which was met with borderline hysterical cheers from the crowd at every pause.

And he more than lived up to this statement throughout the night. The show launched out with “Waiting [Reprise]” from his follow-up to Faith, 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1. It’s a short, sweetly-sung acoustic track on which Michael appeared from behind the stage on the resplendent final line, “Don’t people change, ‘cause here I am / Is it too late to try again? / Here I am.”

From there, the always-energetic singer wove in hit after hit after hit: from the slick, fast-paced “Fastlove” to the clubby jam “Too Funky” to a few gems from his Wham! days (“Everything She Wants,” “The First Time I Saw Your Face,” “I’m Your Man,” among others), you’d be hard-pressed to find any quibbles with the exhaustive 23-song offering. (Plus, there’s really nothing like singing along, word-for-word, with thousands of other fans to the timeless “Careless Whisper” or the cheeky, stick-in-your-head “Faith.”)

If Michael is the go-to guy for glittering, irrepressibly catchy pop anthems, he also can pull off a stunning, oftentimes gut-wrenching ballad. “Jesus To A Child” is a bare, sparse ode dedicated to his lover Anselmo Feleppa, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1993, while “One More Try,” always a favorite of mine, shows off Michael’s soaring, pitch-perfect vocals and his endearing, heart-on-his-sleeve honesty. Meanwhile, “Kissing A Fool,” with its light touches instrumentation and jazzy feel, was a standout among the crunching rhythms of “Spinning The Wheel” and other danceable offerings, all of which were backed by a swirling vortex of Technicolor from the screens onstage, which featured everything from neon disco balls to dollar signs to vintage images of Michael from videos throughout his career.

Michael’s sense of enthusiasm was unflagging throughout the night, whether he was cheekily chastising Dr. Phil for looking miserable throughout the show (“You should see someone about that!” he quipped while the crowd booed in unison; apparently the good doctor snuck out shortly after that), or appearing onstage in a cop uniform and massive aviators in a nod to his “Outside” video. And his voice, as always, is full and warm and expressive, somehow having gone completely unchanged through the years; though he joked to the crowd, “You’ll have to help me; I'm an old man, and I can't hit the high notes anymore,” Michael may have hit every single beat throughout the night, even the tricky falsetto parts.

I’ve been to far too many shows where the crowd just seems to hang back, taking everything in but not really participating beyond head-nodding and foot-tapping. But that night, the entire Forum was alive and exuberant, singing out and swaying and cheering Michael’s every move. It was glamorous and full of fun and, above all, memorable, which seems about the right way to describe the notorious singer himself.

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