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Category: 2007-2011

#4 – George Michael @O2 World, Hamburg, Germany – 18 Oct ’11

#4 – George Michael @O2 World, Hamburg, Germany – 18 Oct ’11

It’s with a very heavy heart that I write this note as George Michael is no more, having died peacefully at his home on Christmas Day of 2016. I generally associate more to the music than the musician/artist but in this case his music was so soulful and sorrowful and heartfelt and it had such a great impact on me during my adolescent years that I could not help but feel for the person behind the voice. He must have gone through that pain and desolation and forlornness that his songs trickled of, it will be really tough to completely fake that. It’s very easy to identify him with his dance-oriented and sexually-connoted songs like I Want Your Sex, Fastlove, Monkey, Too Funky, Outside or his scandals and brushes with the law for drugs abuse and “indecency”. But peel that surface and sink into his “For the Heart”-esque songs like Praying for Time, Kissing a Fool, You have been Loved, Jesus to a Child, Heal the Pain and you will be able to perceive a different George Michael, and that’s the one I fell in love with. And alas, now that angel of music is no more and my only solace is that I was able to experience this sublime music performed live by this beautiful person before it was too late.

The soul behind the songs
The soul behind the songs

The circumstances that led to this opportunity itself are somewhat rocky, a chance of fate! Back in Jan 2011, I had switched to a smaller boutique IT firm from my earlier, much larger and well-known IT company in hopes of an onsite project opportunity in the US. But after a couple of failed attempts at getting a visa, things were looking very bleak and I had started ruing my risky decision. This was also dead in the middle of the US recession period and so there weren’t many onsite opportunities but I finally managed to convince my boss to get my H1B work visa filed, got all the paperwork done and to my utter relief was able to get through the visa interview this time without raising any red flags! That meant I was all ready to finally realize my dream of working in the US in (hopefully) a few months’ time, that is as soon as I was able to get an assignment. But just the week after my US visa interview my boss came to my cubicle and asked me if I would be ready to travel to Germany within a week’s time for a 3 month assignment! What?!?! But of course (DUH)!!! Thus Germany turned out to be my first foreign country visit instead of the US and I wasn’t complaining. And to top it, my then-girlfriend-now-wife was also assigned to the same project (we were working for the same company and have the same IT background, and hence). However this is not really as good as it sounds, things can turn messy when your girlfriend is also your team-mate!

The Angel of Pop descends on his devotees
The Angel of Pop descends on his devotees

Our time in Hamburg, Germany was not very easy, the work was crazy, German bosses are not the easiest to work for and I will not even start on the challenges the language-barrier posed! But one day as we were walking through a transit point on the way to office, I chanced upon a flyer about George Michael touring Europe, though couldn’t gather anything more as it was in German. Researching further online I found that there was an upcoming concert date in Hamburg itself! Needless to say I was in a tizzy because I could expect to attend concerts by the Iron Maidens and the Metallicas of the world as India had a large rock/metal following and they would eventually have performed someday (in fact they already had by then). But George Michael was someone so exotic, so royal, so unreachable that the fact that I suddenly had the opportunity to see him in a live concert was somewhat “disconcerting”! And the opportunity wasn’t a very easy one either, it being my first time in a foreign country where most did not speak English and I definitely didn’t understand a word of German except “Danke” (Thank You). The tickets also seemed pretty expensive starting at 80 or so Euros, and we were not even earning in euros there, just had a daily meal allowance of 15 euros. And even if I was ready to shell out that money what about my girlfriend, she wasn’t that into music so do I leave her and go alone and if so how do I even get to the venue which was quite far away and this and that… but then also how can I let this opportunity pass by, will surely regret it for the rest of my life! In short, I was tied up in knots about what to do, grappling with excitement and anticipation and worry and confusion! Then I finally thought, Fuck It All, we have but one life! So I bought the best available tickets (around Euro 130 each for 6th row seats) for both myself AND my girlfriend (so as not to leave her behind as she would never have paid that amount of money for a concert) and announced to our German manager the next day that we were going to the concert so would need to leave work a little early on that day. My manager was so infected by our “josh”(enthusiasm) that he too booked tickets for himself and his wife (who turned out to be an Indian), though it was a little ironic to see them sitting way behind on the sides while we were on the 6th row of the main floor.

He's on fire!
He’s on fire!
Celestial Joy
Celestial Joy

Finally the day of the concert arrived, we took a bus from near the office and after changing a couple more finally arrived at O2 World, Hamburg! This was my first view of what a huge and closed concert venue looks like, nothing like the open area of Palace Grounds, Bangalore (India), where I had attended my only 3 previous concerts. Entering the venue was like a dream, everything was so organized, dedicated entry points for different sections, people standing in tidy lines, directions, food and drinks parlors, and when we finally entered the main hall, IT WAS SO BIG WITH SO MANY PEOPLE!! Speechless, with a large beer in my hand, we sought out our 6th row seats and the stage looked so near from there, as if I could almost touch it. Gulping down my beer while waiting for the concert to start, I was already tipsy by the time George Michael got on the stage and as he started singing, I started crying tears of joy (what could I do, I was quite emotional by then). Some of the songs were covers that I couldn’t recognize but whenever he sang any of his own songs like Cowboys and Angels, You have been Loved, Kissing a Fool or Praying for Time, I just sang my heart out with him. That was not a very good thing, as I realized later, as I was degrading the concert-experience of my fellow German concert-goers around me but they were so proper that even though some gave me a few disapproving glances, no one stopped me. But I was in my own world by then and beyond caring, especially after the second beer during the intermission. I was blissfully tipsy by the time the show ended to a standing ovation and after politely jostling through the exits we finally met our manager and his wife outside – they were going give us a ride back as it was too late in the night for us to travel alone by bus. And as I was narrating my concert experience, a little incoherently (to the dismay of my girlfriend), my manager finally said, “Boy, I didn’t realize that you have such a soft-side”! Yes, I do have a soft-side, just like everyone else, and it’s that soft-side that George Michael nurtured with his beautifully sorrowfully soulful songs through a tough period of emotional changes, adolescent confusion and a deep yearning for love.

The Symphony!
The Symphony!
Not the coy one!
GM can’t be accused to be coy!
Some close ups from a not-so-great camera
Some close ups from a not-so-great camera
It's your turn now!
It’s your turn now!

Adieu, George and rest in peace in the knowledge that you have been loved…

Standing heartfelt ovation!
Standing heartfelt ovation!
  • Concert#: 4
  • Season: 2011
  • Date: 18-October-2011
  • Band/Artist: George Michael
  • Tour Name: Symphonica: The European Orchestral Tour
  • Opening acts: None
  • Venue: O2 World
  • City: Hamburg, Germany
  • Setlist: George Michael @Hamburg, Germany – 18-Oct-11
  • Fun Fact: My first international concert
  • My Concert Quotient: 5/5
#1 – Iron Maiden @Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India – 17 Mar ’07

#1 – Iron Maiden @Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India – 17 Mar ’07

This is where it all started, my first concert at a time when attending concerts by international artists was unknown of, at least in the remote part of India called the Northeast that I am from. I had already grown into an avid music-lover by then, and especially of Western music, thanks to my dad! But back then even for someone so deeply immersed in it like me, music was still something you listen to by playing audio cassettes in tape recorders or as MP3s on your desktops with 5.1 speaker systems (if you were blessed, that is). Concerts, or rather single song clips of it, were music videos watched on MTV or bought on DVDs and shared among friends; nonetheless they were so enthralling, those crazy crowds in unbelievably huge arenas head-banging to incredible performances by the gods of heavy metal, or intimate unplugged performances in front of politely applauding crowds by the legends of vintage rock! And all these on the screen of a TV or monitor, projected from a different, alien, unreachable world where people are privileged to be living the unattainable dreams of millions others like us. To be able to be part of such an experience was so unimaginable that I didn’t even think of envying them!

And then Iron Maiden, one of the Trinity of Hard Rock (in my books, other two being Metallica and Megadeth) decided to bless us with their presence in Bangalore, India. The unimaginable just became excitingly possible and due to the same reason, equally heart-wrenching! The excuse of the impossible is a great tranquilizer to the pain of unattained dreams, but when that suddenly becomes possible (though still highly improbable due to circumstances), what do you do, how do you silence the grumbles of yearning, the revolt of possibilities, the call of destiny? I was in the 3rd year of my engineering in a government college in Guwahati, Assam, living in a college hostel/fraternity and on a monthly allowance of Rs. 1000 (~$25) from my parents. And the tickets themselves started from Rs. 900. That was the first and biggest problem. Secondly, Bangalore was a 3-day one-way train ride across India from Guwahati and I would have to make that journey alone. Thirdly, my classes were in full swing and neither my professors nor my parents would be too enthused with my tryst with destiny! So the only way I could make this happen was to feign sickness, hop on a train, travel 3 days to get into Bangalore the day before the concert (the risk of day-long train delays was very real), watch the concert and hop back on a 3-day train ride back to Guwahati and on to such mundane things like classes and studies! The only good news was that I had a very close friend, Tony, in Bangalore who was also looking forward to the concert and egging me to take the leap, so I could crash at his place and we could attend it together which would be much more fun than being all alone among very drunk-and-stoned-metalheads-from-all-around-India!

But all these would come to naught if Money – the first problem – was not solved! And then God thought, let me humor this guy! A yearly “College Week” event organized by the college administration was underway at that time and that meant cultural, sports and other competitive events between the different hostels and students, which also included a quiz competition. I had been a voracious quizzer previously but hostel-life had spoilt me. Nevertheless I used to represent the hostel every year at this event, which this year had a healthy prize of Rs. 5000/- (~$100) for the winners so that meant Rs. 2500/- each! Let’s just say I suddenly found a purpose in life, went on a roll, won the quiz with my even-more-brilliant team-mate, hopped on a bus to the train station right after, bought train tickets to Bangalore and called up Tony and gave him the green light to snap the cheapest tickets before they run out! And then I came back to hostel and got drunk with my friends to celebrate!

Fast-forward a few weeks, I landed or rather disembarked in Bangalore safely and finally the day of the concert arrived! Another friend, Sush, had decided to join us from Chennai which was an 8-hr train ride away and as we stepped into the hallowed Palace Grounds amidst the sea of concert-starved-but-now-stoked mob sporting the customary black t-shirts with Iron Maiden in different forms and albums (and some other bands too), I remember feeling that peculiar heady concoction of exhilaration, anticipation and intoxication (you were supposed to hit the grounds drunk and we all were though it was just around 3 PM!) We three felt like brave pioneers, bursting into a historic event as we finally cleared the very long security check and got our first glimpse of how a concert looks like. I would be lying if I say I remember all the details of this experience from 9 years ago, and unfortunately I do not have any pictures from that era either to jog my memory. But what I do remember was that we waited for many hours for Iron Maiden to get on stage during which other opening bands played and we drank and smoked and yelled. Somewhere along the way we met other friends and acquaintances and smoked and drank some more. But as night drew on and Iron Maiden was about to start it was soon every man (and woman) for themselves. Our Rs. 900 tickets – which were the cheapest – only afforded us the last section of this open air venue and there were police-manned metal barricades that separated us from the more elite section who payed Rs. 1500 for a closer view. As Iron Maiden got on stage and started playing the crowd went into a frenzy and the pushing and shoving and fighting started to just get to the front line of our section (the metal barricades). By the time we had fought our way to around that point, we had already lost our third friend and we just prayed she is safe somewhere (later we found she had hung back with some common friends seeing how unruly the crowd was getting). But for Tony and me the frontline was a whole different battle, people jostling, punching, pushing, trying to break the barricades down. Many jumped the barricades at the right moment as the guards passed their area and they got promoted to the Rs. 1500 section for their adventures, while the unfortunate ones got some solid whacks on their asses from the police! We were still mulling on if we should take the risk when the unthinkable happened; in one mighty push of the mob, the metal barricades (which was actually cemented into the concrete floor) came down and in that moment of chaos when the police were overwhelmed, we jumped away to freedom and into the privileged classes! And good thing we didn’t dither in doing it as the police started “lathi-charging” everyone back there but we were safe. During the surge I lost my friend in the ensuing chaos and didn’t meet him again until after the concert had ended. But that was fine, we were all there to witness Iron Maiden and we had already got much more than we paid for! The rest of the concert went in a head-banging mania among strangers in a weird kind of bonhomie as we were all fans and in it together. They played the classics like The Trooper, Fear of the Dark, 2 Mins to Midnight and Hallowed be Thy Name as well as some from the new album A Matter of Life and Death which I hadn’t really listened to yet but it didn’t matter as we were there to headbang to Maiden and headbang we did! And for the first time I experienced euphoria and exhilaration and was able to distinguish it from everyday happiness or joy, and I guess that’s when I caught this bug that has become such a big part of my life and who I want to be and increasingly, am.

  • Concert#: 1
  • Season: 2007-2011
  • Date: 17-March-2007
  • Band/Artist: Iron Maiden
  • Tour Name: A Matter of the Beast / Eddfest
  • Opening acts: Don’t remember
  • Venue: Palace Grounds
  • City: Bangalore, India
  • Setlist: Iron Maiden @Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India – 17 Mar ’07
  • Fun Fact: 1st concert ever, gatecrashed, pandemonium, total chaos, not fun but fucking awesome!
  • My Concert Quotient: 5/5