George Michael, in excellent voice and good spirit, thanked his San Francisco and San Jose fans for being patient with him.
“Lord knows, it's not always been easy being a George Michael fan,” he told the capacity crowd at HP Pavilion in San Jose on Thursday night at his first Bay Area appearance in 17 years.
He promised he'd do everything he could to make up for his long absence, and by the end of the 90-minute set, sending the crowd home with the anthem “Freedom 90” as the encore, by jove, he had.
A newfound maturity seems to be working for the 44-year-old British pop star, who's had his share of public ups and downs in the 25 years he's been making hits. Through the years, he hasn't necessarily been fond of performing his blockbuster tunes, but on his recent “25” tour through Europe and now the states, he's embracing them.
The concert spanned his career, even bouncing back to his Wham! days, with thrilling, sounding-the-like-record versions of the fun “I'm Your Man,” scathing “Everything She Wants” and emotional “A Different Corner.”
While the song selection slightly favored uptempo dance hits such as “Hard Day,” “Fast Love” and “Flawless,” Michael did devote energy to compelling, even powerful, ballads, nicely dividing them between the fast numbers.
“Waiting (Reprise)” appropriately opened the show; the third tune was the heartrending “Father Figure,” during which he sat on a stool, addressing the audience, evocatively inviting everyone to sing the final word: Till the end of … time.” An unadorned “One More Try” showed off his vocal skills.
His band, situated on three levels at his back between an elaborate set-up of three huge video screens, sounded fantastic, as did six hard-working backup vocalists who provided perfect counterpoint.
A catchy, upbeat new song, “An Easier Affair,” reflected Michael's 21st-century philosophy, he said: “to learn to live your life and not worry about what other people think.”
“Too Funky” was accompanied by the original supermodel video footage; another vivid video sequence, featuring women, presumably prostitutes, in Amsterdam, went with Michael's jazzy interpretation of the Police's “Roxanne.”
The mood prevailed when a grand piano seemed to emerge toward the front of the stage for the smoky “Kissing a Fool.”
“Amazing” was how he described recently seeing “two ladies on the telly getting married”; then he went on to dedicate the dance-love song “Amazing” to his partner, Kenny.
He dressed up like a cop for “Outside,” a tune he wrote after his infamous Southern California arrest on sex charges; then changed back into his black jeans, T-shirt and jacket for a massive sing-along of “Careless Whisper,” smiling the whole time.
“Now that's what I call a duet,” he said. “I don't know why I stayed away so long.”
At long last, like his followers, he's finally got “Faith.”