WHEN George Michael informed last night's crowd at the Capital Centre that it was the final night of his American tour, expectations immediately rose.
The question was, could he deliver enough enthusiasm and excitement even as the "Cover to Cover" tour was winding down with each minute?
But much as he did in his American debut as a solo performer three years ago at the Cap Centre, Michael delivered a most memorable performance.
It's all too easy, between all of the sexual posturing and cartoon image-making that he has created and endured, to lose sight of the most obvious elements of Michael's made-for-MTV persona.
Truth is, he is a spectacular, energetic performer, with an extremely underrated voice and a knack for choosing and writing the right songs.
Last night, splicing a fair portion of his solo work as well as efforts with Andrew Ridgeley and Wham with his personal "favorite hits of the 1970s and '80s," Michael mesmerized the audience by show's end.
Now that's not to say that it all worked all of the time.
His reading of Culture Club's "Victims" was boring at best and his early cover of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," was too funky and plain awful.
RTC But there were also gems to be had, like a disco rewrite of McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," a nifty, soulful rendition of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name" and brilliant performances of Elton John's "Tonight" and "Don't Let .. the Sun Go Down on Me," the final number of the main set.
And as good as the covers were, nothing began to touch what he did with his own catalog.
During "Father Figure," in the first of two 75-minute sets, he was flanked by a 30-member chorus belting out harmonies.
He performed the first verse of "Everything She Wants" a cappella before launching into a solo dance routine that got the crowd moving as well.
For Wham's "Freedom," Michael was joined by his two acoustic guitarists, Danny Jacob and Carlos Rios, as he allowed the crowd of more than 8,000 to take the chorus.
For "Faith," the next song, the crowd took the vocals for the entire song.
And, as he assured the audience several times during the set, he was indeed saving the best for last.
His first encore, "Careless Whisper," with help from saxophone player Andy Hamilton, had Halloween-dressed couples swaying slowly in the aisles.
For the grand finale of the show and tour, the chorus, plus several roadies, joined in the act for a rousing, arm-stretched "Freedom 90," which could easily be one of the highlights of the concert year.