George Michael Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON July 17

George Michael Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON July 17
In an age when Bon Jovi are seemingly as ubiquitous now as they were at the height of their "hair band” glory, and when New Kids on the Block are about to embark on their own comeback tour, it’s a relief to welcome back George Michael to Toronto after a seventeen-year hiatus. Aside from possessing one of the best voices in the business — yes, he can still hit that high, though he didn’t sing that song — the former teenybopper crush and disgraced international joke also has a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humour, and the rare ability to engage a we’re-here-for-the-hits crowd with a much broader selection of material.

He’s still doing his trademark sexy orangutan dance, and he’s still donning the shades and goatee he has worn for the last ten years, but with a good 15 to 20 extra pounds on him — carefully concealed through numerous suit changes and a cop uniform for "Outside” — and a sheepish humility borne of the events of the past several years, he’s a much more down-to-earth pop star than he was in his hey day, and he’s a better performer for it.

Backed by a ten-piece band held aloft by three-storey platforms, six back-up singers who drifted on an off the stage, and an awesomely gaudy film and light show that was a cross between a Laser Floyd and Fashion Television, Michael never let up for a full two and a half hours (well, including a 20-minute intermission). And the crowd of mostly 30- to 40-something women and their partners ate it up. Toronto audiences are notoriously staid, but this concert was easily the most enthusiastic arena show this writer has ever seen. Michael seemed to agree: "Seriously, this is the biggest and loudest crowd we’ve had so far on this tour.”

Beginning with "Waiting For That Day” from 1990’s Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 and ending with — after no less than three encores — with "Freedom 90” from the same album, Andrew Ridgeley’s better half blew through 18 songs ranging from chestnuts like "Everything She Wants” to a jazzy cover of the Police’s "Roxanne,” and well-received, newer material such as "An Easier Affair” off his latest greatest hits offering TwentyFive. One of the highlights of the evening was his fake-out start to "I’m Your Man.” Beginning with a Madonna-style "reinterpretation” of the classic, he quickly finished and said, "Okay, now here’s the real thing.”

With tickets ranging from $69.50 (before tax) to as high as $385.00, it’s possible that some patrons were expecting a full-on gospel choir for their money, but it’s safe to say that no one left the ACC disappointed.