Wembley Stadium back with a wham


LONDON -- The new Wembley Stadium staged its first concerts at the weekend, with two 70,000 capacity sold-out shows by George Michael.

The troubled rebuild of England's legendary national stadium had been due to open a year earlier with a gig by Bon Jovi. But Michael's hit-stuffed set -- 21 years after his former group Wham!'s farewell at the old stadium, and one day after he escaped jail after being found guilty of driving while unfit -- proved the perfect curtain-raiser.

Sticking broadly to the formula unveiled at his arena shows at the end of last year, Michael sprung few surprises, although there was a first airing of "The Edge of Heaven" since that farewell Wham! performance. He also aimed barbs at the U.K. tabloid media, by getting the crowd to chant "Kiss my hairy Greek arse" at the press box.

Michael described being the first artist to tread the boards as "a great honor," and on first impressions, the new stadium seems to benefit from better sound than the old one. The more compact feel also helped the audience feel closer to the performance -- although some in the stands at the side of the stage had difficulty viewing the video screens.

But while technically things went off without a hitch, the new stadium still displayed some teething problems. Despite vastly increased facilities, queues were formidable for both toilets and refreshments, while during the interval thirsty concert-goers at drinks outlets were informed that the stadium had run out of beer. The stadium's next concerts are next weekend when Muse head to north London for two nights.

Michael's shows rounded off a big weekend for live music in the U.K., with the Download and Rock Ness festivals also taking place, and the Rolling Stones making their first U.K. festival appearance in 31 years at the Isle of Wight festival.