Not all that long ago, George Michael couldn’t get arrested — in the figurative sense, that is — on this side of the Atlantic, but at the first Gotham gig of what he’s described as his farewell tour, the singer showed he’s still blessed with formidable crowd-pleasing talents. Singer’s two-hour, two-set perf at a sold-out Madison Square Garden covered his entire career, from a kicky, winking take on Wham’s “I’m Your Man” (delivered with enough zest to make old-school fans forgive the omission of nuggets like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) to a winsome rendition of the power ballad “An Easier Affair.”
Like Rod Stewart, whose propensity for showmanship he shares, Michael has found it relatively easy to shift gears in middle age, compensating for the loss of some upper register by tweaking songs like “One More Try” into more hospitable keys. And while he made a few self-deprecating comments about having lost a step as far as moves go, he managed to command the venue’s spacious stage just fine on his own — with his touring band stacked on risers set to the side.
Michael has always had odd taste in covers, as he reaffirmed here by peppering the program with a passel of songs that didn’t exactly play to his strengths. A jazzy, pensive take on the Police’s “Roxanne” — almost unrecognizable for the first few bars — was intriguing enough, but Michael’s version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” served mostly to prove that, well, he’s no Nina Simone.
Other than that minor slip-up, the singer came across as thoroughly self-aware and good humored, even going so far as to slip into a police uniform for “Outside,” a song that addressed his long-ago arrest for an outdoor sexual peccadillo. That provided a well thought out coda to a smartly paced show and indicated that, warnings to the contrary, Michael might still have plenty of fight left in him.