Tweetingit: 4* Bouffant hair, three day stubble and regulation ray-bans all present and correct; oh the voice is pretty bloody decent too! A highly enjoyable celebration of the man and his music; all courtesy of the brilliant Rob Lamberti.
When George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016, it marked the end of a wretched depressingly flat year. Along with David Bowie and Prince pop music had lost three of its brightest stars. Inevitably and quite rightly life goes on; but I still wonder what George might have gone onto achieve? Many would argue his best years were behind him; fighting his demons undoubtedly took their toll creatively.
Although recording shortly before his death, the release of new material has been decidedly piecemeal; a re-worked version of Fantasy featuring Nile Rogers was released in 2017, but a reputed three albums are yet to see the light of day. A new film Last Christmas starring Emilia Clarke will also feature unreleased songs; but is not due for release until November. So for now, we have to make do with a catalogue of songs and performances to savour.
The tribute market has responded with a slew of acts that are more often lookalike than soundalike. We were fortunate to have Rob Lamberti playing at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith. Rob is by far the best tribute act, having cut his teeth on TV shows Stars in Their Eyes and more recently Even Better Than The Real Thing. The Apollo has a natural vibe and its art deco interior has never looked finer. The venue has played host to the greatest artists ever to have lived. Everyone from Buddy Holly to the Beatles, Queen and the Clash have graced this wonderful stage. Wham also played here on their first tour, so would seem the perfect location for such a tribute.
I saw George Michael play on numerous occasions and was always struck by the sheer quality of his voice and standard of musicianship behind him. So Rob is sensibly backed by members of George’s touring band for added authenticity. In addition, there was the 14 piece National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra which added a cool symphonic feel. Rob has paid almost slavish attention to detail, capturing George’s intonation as well as anyone ever could. He wasted no time introducing band members and made frequent reference to their contribution (very George).
A sumptuous two hour set opened with blue spotlights scanning the audience through a film of dry ice. The haunting Father Figure was first up taking full advantage of a sweeping string section. Song selection and running order were well thought out; but did seem over reliant on Wham material. George only ever performed I’m your man and Everything she wants in his solo gigs. Both featured here as did Club Tropicana and Wake me up before you go-go; great fun but they don’t really belong in a George Michael set (I know picky, picky?). His jazz leanings came to the fore on Cowboys and angels with an arrangement reminiscent of Westside Story. The homage to 70s disco, Outside opened the second half as the string section played out of their skins. The show approached its climax with Careless whisper and the anthemic Freedom 90. Rob donned a salmon jacket for the final song Somebody to love, recalling George’s finest live performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.
Leaving the Apollo I pondered where George Michael objectively sits in pop history. His entry into the pantheon of great performers would seem assured. However, detractors are quick to bestow the dreaded easy listening tag around his neck. George could on occasion be incredibly bland; some of his songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a coffee ad. But he also wrote songs of breath taking beauty; tales of love lost and found; the quest for peace of mind and true contentment. If a songwriter’s heart has to be broken before they write a great song, then poor George must have been in pieces.
All of which came through in this outstanding concert.
Producers: Derek Nicol and Paul Walden for Flying Entertainment Limited
Musical Director: Guy Phethean
Conductor: Matthew Freeman