Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Jacksons concert review: Los Angeles

A version of my review originally appeared at 

The Jacksons’ performance at the Greek Theatre started with the group asking the musical question posed in their hit R&B single “Can You Feel It?”

On Sunday night, the answer was affirmative: a strong camaraderie between the four brothers and the presence of late sibling Michael were both definitely palpable.

Some people might think The Jacksons are simply cashing in after Michael’s death. They have countered during interviews that this “Unity” Tour is a way to pay homage to the legacy and continue the healing process three years later.

Nobody is better suited to sing the classic R&B/pop material than Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Tito - who all played with him on and off for two decades (Randy opted not to participate in the concerts).

A Jacksons reunion was actually in the works following Michael’s originally scheduled 2009 gigs at London’s O2 Arena; the topic also served as the basis for a short-lived A&E reality series later that year. The siblings’ first new studio album since the late ‘80s should emerge by year’s end or early ’13. 

The Greek appearance - The Jacksons’ first in Los Angeles together since playing six nights at Dodger Stadium during the 1984 “Victory” Tour - was not quite sold out.

Many fans were dressed to the nines. There were young guys in bomber jackets a la MJ (a few looked like impersonators/tourist money peddlers on Hollywood Blvd.) and kids in MJ t-shirts. Two older female twins with long flowing hair were dead ringers for Diana Ross circa 1975. One woman was selling full color professional shots of the brothers in a parking lot before the show.

A quick montage of archival clips (more would come later) was followed by The Jacksons being unveiled onstage, sporting dark shades and standing like statues. Once the music got to a certain point, they shifted positions and slowly removed the sunglasses - a bit reminiscent of the “Victory” Tour. The brothers did synchronized moves and took turns on the “Can You Feel It?” lead vocals, which were barely audible at first. 

Supported by a 10-piece band that included three backing singers, plus Tito on electric rhythm guitar, the classic Motown and Philly soul sounds came across smoothly. The song selection spanned 1969-91 and a good chunk of the set was devoted to medleys. Jermaine ably handled the lion’s share of Michael’s lead vocals with Marlon mostly picking up the slack.

They delved into such MJ solo albums as Off the Wall (a sleek, Marlon-sung “Rock with You”; the energizing, suggestive “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” toward night’s end), Thriller (a slamming “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” groove) and Dangerous (the New Jack Swing of “Can’t Let Her Get Away” included Marlon reprising Michael’s signature spins and howls).

Jermaine’s emotional reading of  “Gone Too Soon” (also from Dangerous) came amid a warm, mid-concert ballad segment where the brothers sat on stools and reminisced about the good old days. Pristine group harmonies on the peace espousing “Man of War” (off 1977’s Goin’ Places) was a high point. It ended with group hugs. 

Most of the signature hit singles were spotlighted (“ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I Want to You Back,” “I’ll Be There”), but there were a few surprising omissions (“Dancing Machine,” “Enjoy Yourself”). Marlon and Jermaine constantly traversed the stage and the guys looked like they were having fun doing the different dance moves.

An abrupt transition came when three of the brothers suddenly exited without explanation. Jermaine played a sparkling silver bass that matched his outfit and did Eighties solo hits “Dynamite,” “Do What You Do” and “Let’s Get Serious.” Those prompted a mass exodus to the restrooms “Serious,” along with Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster,” were two of the most memorable R&B jams of 1980. Here, it simmered more than sizzled. 

Fans were in party mode for the string of uptempo numbers ending the evening, particularly “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” Overall, The Jacksons did a decent job replicating Michael’s lead vocals and moves, but there's no denying The King of Pop was one of a kind. 

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