Reason #56549868 that my parents questioned my sexuality as a child: I loved George Michael. Like, really loved him.
I loved Michael Jackson and Prince a whole hell of a lot, too, but there was something about George Michael (and particularly his album "Faith," released when I was four and appreciated sometime later) that I found particularly intoxicating. Maybe it was his leather jacket. Maybe it was his perpetual 5 o'clock shadow, no matter what time it was. Maybe it was the connection I made between George Michael and his previous band, Wham, which my mother constantly blasted in the family Suburban. But whatever the reason, I really loved him.
I even remember buying a videotape (remember those?) collection of the "Faith" music videos. That was probably the biggest red flag that my parents ever got. They could understand why I would listen to him (he was and is a nefariously catchy and clever songwriter and performer) but why would I want to watch him?
The question arises anew as I am here to review 'George Michael: Live in London,' a long-ass (2 hours and 13 minutes) show, the last in his farewell concert series from 2006. I guess I should say "farewell," since how many performers go on tour one more time, only to notice how many millions of dollars they have raked in and think, well, maybe I'll go out oooooone more time?
The show itself is a pretty exhaustive collection of his past hits (stuff from Wham as well as his solo material) as well as newer songs like the underrated "Amazing." The stage is huge, with a long, cascading video screen that starts at the top of the arena and kind of slides down the stage like a tongue, with George Michael himself standing front and center (and the 16 members of his backing band relegated to the sidelines and rafters for much of the show). A brightly illuminated array of disco-y visuals pop up on the screen, as well as visual callbacks to his long and occasionally colorful career.
While Michael's voice isn't as strong as it used to be and his face is now so weirdly square that it looks like a child built him out of Legos, he is still an undeniably engaging performer and sometimes when he really hits "it" (like in a bubbly rendition of Wham favorite "I'm Your Man," now with new homosexual subtext), he reaches a buoyant level of pure joy that few big concerts could hope to conjure. Michael struts around the stage, making love to the crowd (not literally!) and struts like the best of them. He's also wonderfully self-aware at times, acknowledging that the show is "the gayest concert ever made" and wrangling, during "Shoot the Dog," a giant, inflated Union Jack-draped dog that is, er, orally pleasuring an equally massive blow-up George W. Bush. Ah, political commentary at its wittiest.
Your enjoyment of this disc will probably have to do with your knowledge of Michael's extensive discography and whether or not you're enraptured by the visuals and the pop star's larger-than-life swagger. Personally, I found the concert to be genuinely engaging, even for such an epic length. But then again, as a little kid, I had a VHS copy of the "Faith" music videos. Go ahead, keep questioning.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This 50GB disc is encoded for playback in Region "A" and "B." It is a single disc set (wouldn't an audio disc of the concert been nice? I think so too!) The disc does not automatically play and I would like to commend the sleek, simple menu design.
The 1080i (not 1080p – insert frowny-face emoticon) MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer (with a cinematically inclined aspect ratio of 1.78:1) is quite arresting, indeed.
The interlaced video is quote strong, with the colorful images on the giant screen behind and beneath Michael lighting up with all sorts of Technicolor wonderment (including one bit that replicates the look of a "Guitar Hero"-type game). Flesh tones look good, movement is pretty stable, and while some may feel the overall look of the concert is a bit "dark," I find it really wonderful. It lets the screen and the performer really stand out. It also makes the arena seem positively cavernous.
And for interlaced video, there aren't any noticeable technical hiccups, which is quite nice. To quote one of the songs performed here, the video presentation on this disc is "absolutely flawless."
And here comes the disc's sole disappointment: the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. While this mix is far from horrible, it's not exactly going to rattle your windows like any good concert disc (especially in high definition) should.
Maybe it's the fact that I just reviewed two peerless-sounding concert docs ('This Is It' and 'Soul Power') but 'George Michael: Live in London' seemed a little, well, limp. It didn't sound bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it's front-loaded to the point that, while you never want to be overwhelmed with rear-channel activity, it could have really added another dimension to the experience.
Don't get me wrong, you WILL be singing along to "Father Figure," but you won't be transported to the massive arena and feel like you're watching. Everything sounds incredibly crisp and clear. Vocals, by Michael and his superb backing band, are spot-on, and when things get a little dancier, the track delivers the appropriate punch. Crowd ambience is there too, without ever becoming overbearing.
For the most part it sounds really great, but the added real-speaker support would have really brought it to the next level. It's okay, George, I still love you.
Also included are LPCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 English tracks but no subtitles of any kind.
There are only a couple of extras, but they are centered around a fairly lengthy behind-the-scenes doc of the entire concert, which should keep fans happy.
'George Michael: Live in London' is an engaging and fun concert film that, while not exactly delivering reference-quality audio or video, is still well worth watching. There are a couple of nice supplements and the overall packing is fairly stellar. To quote Michael: you've got to have faith. This blinding discoball extravaganza is recommended. But if you owned a copy of "Faith" music videos as a child as I did, then you can go ahead and bump that up to 'Highly Recommended.'