written by Pat Stearman
Well, I was lucky in a way because I didn't hear until we were inside the venue, at our seats, that poor Michael had had to cancel the previous night's concert due to what was being called laryngitis. From his performance on Friday I couldn't hear anything wrong but maybe we were just so ecstatic to be there!! So here we were in the NEC - me, my friend Sheena who has been to a concert during most of Michael's tours, and her daughter Grace who is 9 and was in the fan club as a toddler! (OK, so she has a god-mother who takes the responsibility for introducing Grace to the best things in life seriously!) This was the first time Grace was to see Michael on stage - she'd met him twice at stage doors when she was too young to remember - what a waste! - but last year she asked could she see him - so who was I to say 'No'!!? So that solved HER Christmas present!!
We were concerned while we sat there, should he really have taken another night off? would he damage his voice if he went on, would he really be able to give his best performance? and I'm sure all the fans in the audience held their breaths until he was on stage....but yes, here he was - the brief introduction, the first notes of Let the Rivers Run, and here he was- in the same dark suit and blue shirt as Friday. It's almost a low-key opening compared to the Hotstuff one of the last tour. As soon as he was onto the stage and that voice started singing we were up on our feet to welcome him. A few of us stayed up for that first song - dancing along and making sure Michael knew we were on his side! (who said, making sure he knew where we were?) then we settled down to enjoy what proved to be at least as great a show as the Friday night one.Millennium is always a joy and he put his all into it as ever.I think the rest is in order but don't quote me! Then he stopped for a chat told us a little bit about what he was going to do, and went into 'I don't need a lover' keeping up the pace. To slow things down we had his intro to the idea of country music as a cousin of theatre and that killer rendition of 'You're still the one' ... making a brief reference to his illness by commenting on the first line ...'Looks like we made it, look where we've come together ..' - or something like that! 'If tomorrow never comes' was in there somewhere - either before or after the Shania, and then it was time for 'No matter what', obligiatory joke about Andrew, and the musicals section. The only time I really noticed a problem was in the quiet lines of Losing My Mind where his voice rasped a little - my hand was to my throat at that point - why does it feel that if I touch my throat his will be better?? but I find myself doing it any time he sounds less than perfect. You could almost hear the audience thinking he'd chickened out of the last note in LCE.. those of us who knew he hadn't been well but hadn't heard this 'medley' version! anyway - and those of us who knew were holding our breaths a little - but in fact he did the big powerful stuff perfectly - all those soaring notes in Last Night of the World, the powered parts of I dreamed a dream, the anger and frustration of Losing My Mind (thanks Michael - now I know where you're coming from with that song!) - and of course the 'money' note at the end of LCE!
We breathed sighs of relief - or was it frustration that he wasn't coming home with us for TLC - and TCP - and headed for a walk in the interval.
'Are you enjoying it?', we asked Grace - a silly question really as she had been dancing in her seat and clapping along - and shouting just like her Auntie Pat at the end of the songs! - but yes,she said, it was lovely - the best Christmas present I'd ever given her. Aaaahhhhh aaaahhhhh! etc (What, better than the endless SingalongaDisney videos??) The only disapointment was that the merchandise stalls had run out of picture T-shirts in 'small' - and the lad selling them said 'Medium' would be far too big for a tall but skinny 9 year old. (Tho' she does sleep in an old XL Michael shirt I bought her many years ago!) so I promised to keep looking in hopes they produce some more later in the tour.
Back for the second half - this is a really low-key opening - maybe we ought to start a 'feet' campaign for the start of the second half - he seems to just turn up and get no particular reaction He wore the same dark suit and white shirt - and the lovely twinkly black tie - as Friday - I think it's a different suit from Part 1 - it seems to be a better fit - or maybe it's just that I so love him in the white shirt that it makes whatever else he wears look better? (there are those of you who know why I love the white shirt/dark suit combination so much - just lets say I didn't think so much about it this time...- profile, what profile?)
The second half just got better - any worries he may have had about getting through the show had been forgotten, maybe because he knew he had a legit. night off on Monday. He re-introduced My heart will go on - I don't know if this is one he'd done earlier this time as I haven't read any of the early reviews yet, but he didn't do it on Friday. The Paul Carrack is still a killer - tho' I managed to only get through one tissue this time! Then he went into Never Coming Back, as his his custom not introducing this as his own composition until afterwards. Phew!!! What a strong lyric! (but why does he always look at me in such an accusatory manner in it?? - whaddidisay??) - and such a good song. (I have to disagree with my, admittedly less biased, friend who says his own songs are a weak link - no way Antonio!!!- got bored with Pedro as an alternative to Jose - and anyway it's a small tribute to my friend Julia for the Banderas connection!!) Then the treat - as we didn't get it on Friday - of Someone else's dream, followed by Just When. Wow - I still find it wonderful and so special to be allowed into Michael's world enough to hear these songs which he talked about a little on Sunday, explaining that they're all biographical and some are autobiographical - I also liked his description of Just When on Friday as ' an anitidote to SED' . The other beautiful part of this is that he spent so much time in the earlier years saying he could never write, that he would never be able to write anything that would stand up against the writers he'd worked with - and here he is proving he can and does. Go Michael Go - as apparently the banner someone in the front rows was holding up said!
The last 'serious' moment of the night came all too soon with Michael saying 'I'm knackered' and sitting down on the 'waffle iron' to sing 'Love on the rocks'. (No sign of the 'fan' - electric! at NEC) - another powerful performance. The band then got their chance to shine with ' Why do fools...' -aren't they GOOD! and good sports!
I may have said this about the Friday show - I go far enough back with Michael to know that when he starts getting all serious, then you're in for something very silly - whatever happened to the Yellow PolkaDot bikini - or the Eurovision medley...???? - so when he starts tallking about how the band would never send him up... we know better! and suddenly half the audience was on their feet and rushing the stage... we'd already realised that Grace would see nothing at the stage - it was well over 5 feet high- so we moved into the aisle and down a few feet so we could dance but still keep enough space between us and the people in front to actually see. (apart from my friend being shoulder charged by an impatient 'fan' this worked well)
So- party time!!!! La Vida Loca, lots of rock and roll, - I love great Balls of fire - and there was no sign that Michael had been anything but 100% all night. A final fling with One Step, Help Yourself and You made me love you - all in the leather jacket....and it was all over for another evening.
Grace's reaction - This was the best night of my life. Even better than being in the pantomime. (she was a Munchkin in the local profesional panto last year - with a first night card from Michael!) Her mum tells me she could talk about nothing else all the way to school yesterday - well, either the concert she'd been to or what she was going to do/wear/etc etc next year..... so not only did I have a great night for myself but I was pleased and proud that my favourite man and my god-daughter hit it off so well!