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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK
Wembley deserves headline billing
By John Hand
BBC News, at Wembley Stadium

George Michael on stage at Wembley
George Michael gave Wembley fans an opening night show to remember
It was a sunny Saturday in June 21 years ago when I first fell in love with Wembley Stadium as a musical venue.

Up on stage two likely lads called Wham! were singing about putting the boom boom into our hearts while, among the 70,000 crowd, I was surrounded by teenage girls not yet aware that the heartthrob singer might not actually be the man to do it right, right, with them.

Fast forward to Saturday night and George Michael, now minus the loveable goof on guitar, was performing at the first concert to be staged at London's rebuilt Wembley Stadium.

Many of the then-teenage girls were back as sophisticated thirtysomethings, ready to sway and sing along to his hits of the past 25 years.

As an opening night act, Wembley was on pretty safe ground when it booked Michael, whose Live 25 tour has been thrilling crowds of all ages around Europe since kicking off in Barcelona last September.

Muse, 16 & 17 June
Concert for Diana, 1 July
Live Earth, 7 July
Metallica, 8 July

A sure handed mix of early Wham! classics and mature ballads and dance numbers from his successful solo career were performed flawlessly as Michael stood against a hi-tech curved backdrop with funky rolling graphics.

But if the opening act was a pretty sure thing, the first concert at the 757m stadium was a huge test for its reputation as a 21st Century venue equipped to ensure fans get a great night out for their money.

Of course, Michael was the opening night act only because of the much-publicised delays which meant last summer's planned concerts by other artists were scrapped.

Wembley stadium
With prices from 50, tickets were cheaper than for some concerts

But now Wembley is finally open for business, will music fans find they get more bang for their buck?

Although I had some magical nights at the old stadium, it was far from a perfect place to see live music, a fact underlined over the past few years as "stadium" acts such as U2 and Madonna were rehomed in much smaller indoor arenas.

However, those venues lacked that Wembley magic - the shared experience of a Tube train crowded with fans excited about the upcoming show, the throng of people down Wembley Way and the roar of a capacity crowd that greeted the start and end of every set.

On the way to the new stadium, it was clear there was a real wow factor. Time and again I heard comments about the general cleanliness and all-round "shiny splendour" of the new stadium - no-one could ever have called the old stadium shiny.

And the hugely increased numbers of bars and toilets (surely the two go hand in hand) also won favour, making life much easier for those wanting to make a quick pre-gig dash in the direction of one or the other.

George Michael at Wembley
George's show was a mix of flawless vocals and dazzling stage graphics

Unlike many of those fondly-remembered trips to the old Wembley, I was in a seat rather than fighting it out for a good spot down among the masses on the pitch.

That seat was in the row second from the back of the entire stadium. At the old Wembley that would have made for a truly rotten view, but the new stadium's steep rake among the stands meant I could enjoy a superb overview of what was going on below.

From my lofty perch, it was possible to witness one other welcome change from the old Wembley. The security operation is now a slick affair, with stewards standing at the back overseeing blocks of seats rather than at the front, blocking the view.

But the most pleasant surprise of all involved the acoustics. I'm not expert enough to know the reasons why, but architect Lord Foster's Wembley design has helped to provide an outdoor venue where the effect as Michael's vocals bounced around the stadium was rather like that of being in a modern surround-sound cinema.

So after a long, long wait, Wembley is back looking - and sounding - better than ever. Now who's next on the bill?

George Michael on stage at Wembley Stadium

In pictures: George Michael at Wembley
09 Jun 07 |  In Pictures
Michael makes history at Wembley
09 Jun 07 |  Entertainment
Singer Michael avoids jail term
08 Jun 07 |  Entertainment
The new Wembley Stadium
16 May 07 |  Football
Stadium delay hits Wembley gigs
31 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Keeping the faith in George Michael
22 Sep 06 |  Entertainment


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