George Michael

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The Forum audience gave George Michael a special present just before the second half of his two-hour show: a spontaneous, arena-wide "Happy Birthday" for the English singer, who turned 45 on Wednesday.

There were more birthday rounds later in the night, but Michael already had given his fans the gift of a stylish, career-spanning performance as part of his first North American tour in 17 years.

Wearing all black and in glasses, Michael still looks a touch boyish, though he clearly is heading into middle age. He opened with "Waiting (Reprise)," setting the night's theme with lyrics like "there's a way back for every man" and proved he's on top of his game on his own terms.

The staging certainly was impressive, full of sparkle and rainbow hues of lighting coupled with vivid video images. Yet despite all the flash and glitz, the music always came first, the arrangements big but tasteful and even sometimes surprisingly understated for the more subtle songs.

He picked up the pace with pulsing "Fastlove" and the bouncy "I'm Your Man," dating back to his mid-'80s start in the bubblegum-poppy Wham! as black-and-white footage of those so-young days appeared on the screens. Those Wham! tunes received some of the biggest screams and cheers, including the funky strut of "Everything She Wants."

A gospel-styled "One More Try," accompanied only by piano, found him interacting in the round with his backing singers. He struck a musical equilibrium between the ballads and upbeat songs, though some of the Eurotrash dance material came off as filler.

A trio of numbers in the second half suggested Michael's possible future direction. A jazzy, dead-on version of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" was followed by his torchy cover of the Police's "Roxanne" and a slinky take on "Kissing a Fool," the latter two performed on asmaller stage at the center of the arena.

Commenting on California now allowing "people like him" to marry, he dedicated "Amazing" to his partner, the first of a trio of thumpy dance anthems that also included "Flawless (Go to the City)" and "Outside."

Some recent news stories have quoted Michael as saying he's too old to be a pop star. But this show proved that he transcended simple pop idol status a while ago. That's the providence of kids, who aren't his audience anymore. Their parents are, and you know what? That's more than OK. (partialdiff)
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