TAMPA — Up until Saturday, the best-looking concert crowd I had ever seen was at a Rascal Flatts show at Ford Amphitheatre. My, oh, my: It was like a Hawaiian Tropics bus had crashed into the set of Hee Haw.
But the 11,253 men and women at the George Michael gig at the St. Pete Times Forum this weekend, although older than the Rascal crowd by a good 15 years, certainly deserved careful consideration in the hubba-hubba department.
And why not? Ever since his '80s days in boy band Wham!, the hunktastic icon has given equal time to style and substance, delighting fashion-minded fans with both smart soulful pop and the most beloved facial hair since Grizzly Adams.
On his first U.S. tour in 17 years, the 45-year-old Brit, never one for subtlety, brought with him a ginormous toboggan-shaped stage made entirely of state-of-the-art video panels. That monstrosity was flanked by two humbly huge screens. And in between those were three tiers of scaffolding for a sprawling umpteen-piece band.
But despite all that glam, all that glitz, the more than two-hour show often had an intimate, subdued feel. One reason for that was Michael's health. "I have a terrible cold," he said, nevertheless looking faboo in a smooth black suit. "I'm not used to your American air-conditioning." (Perhaps this was why he hit the stage a good 30 minutes late.)
As a result of the sniffles, he had some trouble with his high notes, letting the crowd sing the tough parts on 1984 Wham! hit Everything She Wants. But his midrange remains a rich marvel, and he flat-out stunned 'em with a gospel rendition of One More Try and a smoldering cover of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.
Another reason for the concert's curious feel was that the singer was often on that giant sled all by his lonesome. Of course, the throngs didn't seem to mind, especially when he shook his golden go-go to such dance-floor burners as Fastlove and Too Funky. (If George was bummed by the smallish turnout, he didn't show it.)
After a brief intermission, things got a little friskier, as he kicked things off with the boot-scooty title hit from 1987's gone-solo smash Faith. During the va-va-voomish Feeling Good, that massive toboggan flashed an old-school striptease. Hot, very hot.
And for the night's most charming moment, he poked fun at his knack for bad behavior, especially that 1998 bathroom "incident" in Beverly Hills. For the disco-fied Outside, he hit the stage in a cop uniform and grinded like a madman. That kept the crowd going bonkers all the way through late-game renditions of Careless Whisper and Freedom! 90.
After all these years, George still looks good getting down. And you know what? So do we.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.