Michael Jackson – Live!
If you ever saw Michael Jackson in concert then you will know that he was one of the world’s greatest ever showman.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s Michael’s world tours, ‘Bad’ and ‘Dangerous’ took stadium entertainment to a whole new level with spectacular effects, staging, sound and performance, breaking box office records wherever he played.
The ‘This Is It’ concerts would again have shown the world what Michael Jackson was all about. An electrifying performer without equal, the King of Pop would have blown-away over a million fans during 50 sold-out dates at London’s O2 arena.
Our show Thriller – Live is a tribute to some of the genius that is Michael Jackson in concert, but we can never truly emulate the legend, we are just proud to honour him with a show produced with L.O.V.E. However, if you want to really know what he was like on stage, or you just want to relive the magic, then read on…
The pre-show tension and atmosphere builds with the classical notes of ‘Carmina Burana’ drowning the arena and video footage of Michael filling two giant screens. As the music becomes louder, the crowd’s excitement reaches fever point with the words ‘BRACE YOURSELF’ jumping out from the screens.
Suddenly, Michael appears as if from nowhere, emerging in a flash of smoke – a solitary black silhouette standing high above the 70,000 strong crowd. He seems to command respect from his position, drawing upon the energy coming from his adoring fans. The stage is alight, burning top and bottom, with smoke swirling around to create one apocalyptic scene that focuses the audience’s concentration on the point where Michael is stood.
Dressed like a futuristic Roman centurion, Michael moves to the beat of the opening number, ‘Jam’. His choreography and vocals complementing the synthesized sound, which is as good live as the original studio recording.
Halfway through the song and Michael pauses, the crowd applauding thinking the number is over, but there is more, much, much more. Four dancers dressed in black, two either side, join Michael on stage where they dance in perfect harmony, only to be interrupted by a rap, “Jam jam here comes the man, hot damn the big boy stands, movin’ up a hand, makin’ funky tracks with my man Michael Jackson, smooth criminal, that’s the man!”
The music finally stops and Michael and his dancers pose frozen like statues, not moving an eyelid, but fully appreciative of mass applause. Next up is ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’, for which Michael throws aside his military style jacket to reveal a shiny gold jumpsuit.
As ‘Wanna Be…’ ends the stage descends into darkness. Michael plays with the audience, calling out for them to echo his words, which they do on cue. He cries “whoo” and the audience follow, then “aaahh” and again hey copy. There is more crowd participation with the next song as the stadium is filled with burning lighters. The darkened skies add to the breathtaking natural effect – more so than any stage illusion, well almost, for Michael will save the best to last. The audience joins together as one for ‘Human Nature’, which Michael performs with a voice that is pure and crystal clear, blowing over every flame, chilling the warm night air.
When the song is over, with barely a pause for breath, three giant drapes appear from the stage roof with a giant silhouette on each. Michael is behind the centre drape, his iconic features easy to identify. A red neon sign lights up the grey stage, and a deep voice bellows out. “As I drifted down Baker Street past shop windows barred against the perils of the night. Up ahead a neon sign emerged from the fog, the letters glowed red hot in that way I knew so well, branding a message into my mind – a single word – HOTEL!”
The beat of the song has the audience going crazy as the dancers perform the highly intense war-dance of ‘Smooth Criminal’. Michael wears a white trilby and jacket with his dancers dressed in darker gangster outfits, all very reminiscent of the famous video. They even recreate the scene where the dancers lean forward at a 45-degree angle, no strings attached! The finale to the song sees the dancers shot down in a blaze of machine gun fire, with Michael the last-man standing, looking over the motionless bodies.
The tempo is finally slowed for ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’. A beautiful array of lasers shoot out from the stage and over the audience who are again wielding their lighters for the romantic ballad. Siedah Garrett joins Michael on stage to recreate the duet they performed together on the ‘Bad’ album. At the end of the song the mood is further softened as Siedah walks slowly away, leaving a forlorn Michael, sad and lonely to sing ‘She’s Out Of My Life’. It is hard to believe that the song still makes Michael cry, but his emotional performance is a mark of great showmanship.
However, he soon perks up, as he announces, “Now we’re gonna give you the old songs, in the old fashioned way!” A short medley of Jackson 5 material follows – ‘I Want You Back’, ‘The Love You Save’ and a show-stopping rendition of the charming ballad ‘I’ll Be There’. Bright lights bring the stadium to life with Michael and the backing singers waving their arms in unison and the crowd singing every note. Old visuals of The Jackson 5 at work, rest and play appear on the video screens and it is to his brothers that Michael adds a final ode, “Tito, Marlon, Jackie, Jermaine and Randy…I love you all…I’ll be there.”
Just about everything connected with the concert seems to be full of action, even the stage, which was built in the UK and required a gigantic Russian transporter plane to ferry it around. It takes 50 people working around the clock for three days to construct. It’s hard work and a logistical nightmare, but it is not surprising when you see what the stage can do for the next song.
The stage rises up and splits in two so the lower level looks like something from a Stephen King movie, all dark and gloomy, with coffins, crosses and skeletons. Michael dons the famous red ‘Thriller’ jacket, ferociously singing about the flesh-eating zombies out to haunt us. Vincent Price’s rap booms out as seven-foot skeletons come to life, bopping back and forth to the ghoulish beat. The crowd becomes delirious as Michael climbs into a coffin that is covered with a blue cloth. Seconds later the coffin disappears! Where is Michael? Look above – on the second level, dressed in black and wearing a fedora, while all around him the opening beats of the classic ‘Billie Jean’ are thumping out.
This song is now as familiar as any in Michael’s repertoire, but he still manages to deliver it with a conviction that suggests the lyrical content touches a nerve somewhere in his soul. The final part of the performance is all about rhythm, Michael’s rhythm in dance and music. As the chords strum out, Michael seems possessed, loosing himself on stage as he locks, twirls and slides his way across the floor with his trademark move, the Moonwalk.
After more spectacular illusions during ‘Working Day And Night’ and ‘Beat It’, for which Michael is indebted to David Copperfield, the famous American illusionist, the audience breaks into rapturous applause for the angelic ‘Will You Be There’. Michael skips gracefully around the stage, softly stretching and reaching out while his dancers follow, at one point raising him above their heads. At the close of the song, an angel with enormous swan-like wings flies down from above and embraces the King Of Pop. Even more touching though, is a ballerina who dances around the stage, playing with a small globe during the opening notes of the US Live Aid anthem ‘We Are The World. As the tune segues into ‘Heal The World’ the ballerina rolls the globe gently across the stage from left to right where Michael walks on and picks it up. The scene is enormously symbolic, guaranteed to melt the hardest of hearts as children of all colours and races join Michael on the split-level stage.
The climax to the show features a rousing rendition of ‘Man In The Mirror’ with Michael reiterating his message that we are all responsible for making the world a better place in which to live. “If you wanna make the world a better place then take a look at yourself and make a change…”
As the final notes of ‘Man In The Mirror’ fade into the distance, three grey boxes are lowered onto the stage, which now resembles the set of popular 70’s TV series ‘Thunderbirds’. Space age fantasy replaces Michael’s messages of peace and one by one the boxes are opened. The first contains a jumpsuit that is placed over Michael, the second a helmet, the third a jetpack!
A countdown begins…TEN, NINE, EIGHT…THREE, TWO…the volume is turned up and the atmosphere becomes more intense…ONE – LIFT OFF! Michael flies up from the stage and over the audience, out of the arena! “Ladies and Gentlemen, Michael Jackson has now left the stadium,” a voice confirms.
The highlight of the night? No, just the most appropriate ending to a show that was most definitely out of this world.
By Adrian Grant
For more on Michael Jackson read ‘Michael Jackson: The Visual Documentary’ available from Amazon