Track listing: Waiting (Reprise), Fastlove, I'm Your Man, Father Figure, Hard Day, Everything She Wants, One More Try, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, An Easier Affair, Too Funky, Star People, [Intermission], Faith, Spinning The Wheel, Feeling Good, untitled, Roxanne, Kissing a Fool, Amazing, Flawless, Outside, A Different Corner, Careless Whisper, FreedomI did not know beforehand that jeans and a black short-sleeved button-down shirt doubled as an unofficial uniform for gay men in Dallas. So with the exception of my wife's company, I blended into the American Airlines Arena crowd quite naturally to watch George Michael's first Dallas performance in over 15 years.
The starkness and darkness of the pre-show set is a surprise. Considering Michael's turn toward dance music in recent years, one might expect something other than a complete absence of color, ornamentation, and instrumentation. Only a single microphone stand sits center stage. The stage is blanketed by a wide, black, ribbon-like structure--a river of darkness reaching three stories high, spanning the center third of the stage. It flows from atop the back curtain, down to the floor, and over the stage's front edge.
The late-arriving crowd gets a long good look at the barrenness because, despite the tickets indicating an "8:00PM sharp" start time, 8:50PM comes and goes with no George in sight. Fans eventually resort to doing the wave, which makes several rounds before the arena lights finally dim.
From out of the darkness, fans quickly learn that the giant black apparatus is actually an enormous video screen, flanked on both sides by two additional oversized video walls. And though there were no signs of instruments beforehand, curtains part between the three screens to reveal two 3-story platforms containing a 9-piece band (drummer, bassist, percussionist, 2 keyboardists, 3 guitarists, and a saxophone player if you're counting). The performance begins with his six back-up singers softly repeating the do...do...do-do-do from Listen Without Prejudice's "Waiting (Reprise)."
Michael addressed the crowd four songs into the show by first thanking his partner Kenny Goss, a Dallas native, for making this a homecoming performance. He then thanked fans for their 25 years of support and, to their delight, promised 2-1/2 to 3 hours of music. It was quite apparent that he was thankful and pleasantly surprised to have a full house of 10,000+ eager listeners. And eager they were, the entire crowd up-and-dancing during Wham's "Everything She Wants." "For anyone who doesn't remember the 80's," Michael coached the few young attendees, "just look to your left and imagine that person with four times as much hair."
But after some dancing and reviving of way-back playlists, Michael reminded everyone why "Faith" won the 1989 American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album. Flanked by his back-up singers toward the front of the stage, he pulled off a stunning gospel-tinged rendition of "One More Try." Fans are loving this show, from the front row to third mezzanine, the setlist a brilliant mix of old, new, dance, soul, and cover songs (The Police's "Roxanne" and the Roberta Flack hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from his own Songs from the Last Century).
After a 20-minute intermission, George is joined center stage by three band members (congas, electric guitar, acoustic guitar) for a stripped-down rootsy take on "Faith." Transitioning back to his dance repertoire, "Spinning The Wheel" brings the crowd to its most energetic state of the night (excepting the "Freedom" encore, to come). During "Spinning..." a film strip of tragically famous faces scrolls up the center video "tongue," its most practical and powerful use of the evening. The seemingly continuously surprised Michael muses, "I didn't think I would hear [applause] in America, but God knows." The night wasn't all apology, hits, and dance, though, as he performed a bluegrassy song he claimed was the first song he ever wrote, at age eight.
Another of the evening's recurring theme's was redemption--perhaps within himself as much as that of his public reputation. Michael truly seemed pleased that Americans, Texans no-less, once again embraced him and his music as they had a decade-and-a-half earlier. Noting some changes during that time, he mentioned of California's legalizing of gay marriage and his finding a powerful and lasting relationship with partner Kenny Goss. "You changed my life" were his words to Goss, leading into "Amazing." Taking a shot at his own transgressions, he changed into a police uniform for his ode to public affection, "Outside."
One last time, ensuring the crowd was with him, he asked (twice), "Do you forgive me?" receiving a resounding ovation. This Dallas crowd was with him, as they had been then and would be on his return...hopefully sooner than fifteen years from now.