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Thu 1 Jan 1970 12:00 AM

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Keeping the faith

When George Michael played his supposed final concert in Abu Dhabi recently, the only question was: has he still got it? Yes, says Damian Reilly, in spades.

When George Michael played his supposed final concert in Abu Dhabi recently, the only question was: has he still got it? Yes, says Damian Reilly, in spades.

If you accept, as I do, that women are more emotionally evolved by far than men, and that their thoughts and feelings on all but the most basic level are as intelligible to the opposite sex as, say, the noise bats make for the purpose of sonar navigation is, then the popularity of George Michael with them becomes easy to understand. And he is hugely popular with women. No man can mobilise an army of women as loyal to the last as Michael.

George Michael speaks to women in his songs in the way they wish every man spoke to them. His lyrics are intelligent and to the point, sometimes funny, always caring and respectful. He understands. And he doesn't patronise.

No matter that Michael, who is homosexual, is probably not actually addressing the words of his songs to a notional woman, the sentiment is the thing. And the sentiment is exactly right. That is what makes the girls' hearts melt. That, and one of the finest voices of his or any other generation.

In early December, Michael descended on Abu Dhabi, for what was billed as his last concert. Hopefully, such a statement was merely a ploy to drum up publicity, because it would be a tragedy for Michael, on this evidence, not to sing directly to his fans again.

His voice is as good as it ever was, he has his health, and, frankly, they, for their unswerving loyalty over his 25 year career, deserve it.

The organisation of the concert, at the Zayed Sports Stadium was, as it usually is with concerts in the UAE, appalling. In the VIP section, from where high-rollers and lucky members of the press were able to observe the show, people were actually fainting in the crush to buy drinks.

People will do that, faint, if there are only three people serving, and thousands after hydration. In the medical tent, of course, there was no water.

Michael didn't come on till 11pm. You want to be good if you're going to do that. Fans had arrived from 6pm. Wild man of rock Pete Doherty wouldn't do that. Nor would famously unpunctual Amy Winehouse.

Coming on at 11pm is, to be frank, what is called taking a liberty. He played until midnight, when he took a half hour break - lights up, fans sitting on the floor - before returning to play for another hour.

The concert finished at 1am. Insight was out of the car park by 2am, and back in Dubai, legs sore from so much standing, by 4.15am.

Before he came on, Alicia Keys didn't so much warm up as perform a full concert, complete with encores. These things are subjective, of course, but Keys' brand of sultry feminism and prettily disguised antipathy towards men grates very quickly.

Yes, yes, a real man knows a real woman's worth. Fine. Now clear off and let's get on with the show.

Eventually, she did. And after a 30 minute break while the stage set was changed, on Michael bounded to launch into the reprise version of Waiting. Yeah, tell me about it George.

You want to be angry with him, but he opens that mouth and starts singing, and all feelings of ire vanish. The unabashed enthusiasm with which he goes about performance - he performed as if for the first time - is highly infectious.A word about that voice. Normally, at pop concerts, the audience must be familiar with the work being performed, or else lyrics are not clear. The sound quality live is never as good as it is on the album - it's the compromise that is made for the excitement of seeing music performed live.

But, somehow, this isn't the case with Michael. His voice is faultless, and transcends all backing music, to fill each corner of the stadium. Every word is clear. And what he is singing is worth listening to. There's poetry in the lyrics.

Michael's stage was T-shaped - with the promontory stretching out thirty-odd metres into the crowd. Raised, and almost hidden from view, was the band. And behind and apart from Michael were his backing singers. There was nothing at all on the vast stage to deflect attention from the talent.

This is a man supremely confident in his abilities and untroubled by the prospect of holding the rapt attention of thousands of people for hours. Which is all the more remarkable when you consider how Michael dances.

He dances like... he dances like your father might in your worst nightmare, if he was gay. But Michael doesn't care. Which is the secret to dancing. And so we love him all the more.

After Waiting, he performed the upbeat Fast Love, before the lachrymose Father Figure (which is the song this observer would posit first in defence of the statement that Michael talks expertly to womens' inner desires: "So when you remember the ones who have lied/Who said that they cared/But then laughed when you cried/Beautiful darling, don't think of me/Because all I ever wanted, it's in your eyes").

From here on, Michael mixed the tone of the songs, veering from tunes that had the crowd dancing in their thousands, to ones (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face etc.) that had them reaching for hankies. All the while, a spectacular lightshow played over the stage's vast backdrop.

Dressed in a baggy grey suit, with an enormous Armani belt buckle holding his trousers up, Michael ran about the stage, thrusting his pelvis to all corners.

This 45 year old man seemed childlike in the pleasure he was deriving from performing, never moreso than when he ran backstage before Outside - the song he wrote after being sentenced to community service for soliciting - and appeared, gleeful as a little boy in fancy dress, dressed in a camp version of a New York policeman's uniform, complete with mirrored shades. The crowd roared, of course it did.

Michael played 20 songs in all, which is generous, and almost an excuse for the thirty minute interval.

One song was conspicuous by its absence. When it came to the encore, Michael asked the audience what they wanted, and held the microphone out to them. There was only ever going to be one answer. Thousands screamed it.

Freedom was Michael's big statement song, the one for when he made the transition from teen-idol Wham! pin-up to serious, adult artist, free to be himself. It's an incredible anthem.

It sent the crowd wild, and then home, happy. It's a life affirming song.

George Michael's music is not just for women. It's for anyone with faith in love and music. And without that, they say, the end won't be long.

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