Concert review of George Michael’s Faith Tour performance at Shoreline Amphitheatre in California USA where he performed on September 27-29, 1988. Article by Joyce Millman for The San Francisco Examiner published on September 28, 1988.
SOMETIME after British teen-idol duo Wham! held American radios and MTVs hostage with the gratingly cheery “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” George Michael, the singer, songwriter, pinup and spokesman of the twosome decided to give credit where credit was due and change the group’s name to “Wham! (featuring George Michael”). And then one day, Wham! was no more. Has anybody heard from Michael’s John Oates, Andrew Ridgley, since? And did he serve any purpose other than holding a guitar and wearing plaid?
But seriously — things have been different since George Michael went out on his own. His fine, self-produced 1987 solo debut, “Faith,” had enough substance to break through the thickest Wham! mental block. And as his sold-out Tuesday night concert at Shoreline Amphitheater (he also plays Wednesday and Thursday) confirmed, George Michael is not a bimbo.
Think of him as the Elton John of the ’80s, a versatile songsmith with a sturdy white-boy soul voice and an exuberant fanaticism for black music. Michael stole last June’s Nelson Mandela birthday concert when he performed a set of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye covers, paying tribute to his idols and driving home the point about the voices apartheid seeks to stifle. And at Shoreline Tuesday, he continued his romp through 70s R&B, with loving versions of Wonder’s “Too Shy to Say” and the group Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade.”
Unlike Elton John, Michael isn’t much of a ham or a showman. He is, however, a pop star of the first order, and proud of it During his 90-minute-plus-encores show, he drove the mostly female crowd crazy with his carefully choreographed butt wiggles. He tirelessly struck sultry poses through the dry ice and laser beams, the better to show off his expanse of tanned fuzzy chest, his Pepsodent smile and his chic day’s growth of stubble (Keith Richards’ advice to Michael in the current issue of Rolling Stone: “Get a shave”).
But it’s when Michael tried too hard to be the perfect pop idol that the show hit its dead spots. His cheerleader exhortations for the crowd to sing along on “Faith” and “Monkey” didn’t feel remotely spontaneous.
Michael’s singing was the real thing, though, warm and generous. Backed by a six-man, one-woman band led by bassist/foil/opening act Deon Estus, Michael offered Wham! numbers like “I’m Your Man” and “Careless Whisper” (sounding amazingly the same as when Andrew Ridgley was around) as well as most of “Faith.”
That album is a mind-boggling collection of pop styles and musical moods, the first side examining a romantic relationship from shifting viewpoints, stripping love down to the purely emotional (the title track), the purely physical (“I Want Your Sex”) and the purely psychological (Michael’s best song, the complex and haunting “Father Figure”).
“Father Figure” was easily the highlight of Tuesday’s show, the snaky Middle Eastern keyboard riff finding an eerie complement in the rolling banks of green and purple-lighted dry ice fog as Michael lulled the charged-up crowd with his silky crooning.
Almost as stunning was the Wham! (featuring George Michael) ballad “Different Corner,” the song that marked the beginning of Michael’s maturation as a lyricist. Michael’s hushed, urgent torch singing (it’s when he overdoes the soul belting, as on his last single “One More Try,” that he sounds unbecomingly brittle) infuses this meditation on love and fate with an AIDS-era undertone of fearful odds-weighing.
In the show’s most charming moment, Michael and band launched into an inspired cover of Wild Cherry’s mid-70s hit ‘Play That Funky Music White” Boy”. This was Michael affirming his disco roots, proclaiming that disco sense of multiracial community and solidarity is alive and well in today’s dance pop. With a funky white boy like George Michael leading the way, you gotta have faith.
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- BBC Hardtalk Interview with George Michael (2003)