There’s no denying the legacy and impact of Michael Jackson’s music – it’s a timeless mark on our society. So there will always be an audience for a good MJ tribute band. Case in point: Saturday at the Newport with“Who’s Bad?”
The excitement was palpable as the crowd waited for Michael to appear, soaking up the funky energy of the guitars and horns onstage as they segued into the opener “Jam.” I immediately was drawn to the in-your-face, perfectly synchronized appeal of the trumpet and sax as they blared away in a side-to-side swoop dance that was reminiscent of old-school Morris Day and the Time. I LOVED THOSE HORN PLAYERS. The whole show packed a LOT of soul, which was part of its appeal: MJ is the King of Pop, but we know and love his songs for their slick studio production. This was a band flavored with some serious live R&B stylings.
“Wanna Be Starting Something” was next- and I was hooked for sure. The dancing had officially begun and the crowd began to whoop. Who doesn’t like chanting “Mama say mama saw ma ma koo saw” over and over? “Michael”, aka Taalib York, had the MJ moves down as he tipped his hat and pivoted from moonwalk to moonwalk. (I liked his portrayal. He had the same genuine, gamine appeal as Michael, but didn’t portray him as a caricature or try to push his voice into squealing octaves only Michael could hit.)
After “Rock With You” the white jacket and hat came on, and we were all struck by a smooth criminal. The band wove the melodies and the instrumentals together seamlessly. “Michael” then chose a few ladies to go onstage- of which I had the pleasure- and serenaded me, my friend, a few 8-to-10-year olds, and some 20-something college girls- to “The Way You Make Me Feel.” I pounced on my chance to dance with Michael, and of course, a little pas de deux with my saxophone-playing friend, Aaron McCoy.
Trumpet player Ray McCall (dressed in awesome old-school breakdancing garb – remember Ollie & Jerry?) took over periodically as emcee and worked the crowd up admirably, leading the band into short bursts of in-your-face stylings, Public Enemy style, with thundering guitars and raps.
The sequin jacket and the menacing bass line of “Billie Jean” made their appearance, which was a fun and flawless portrayal; and another highlight was the more edgy, raw, guitar-heavy version of “Beat It”. A fake street fight, some recreated well-known dance moves from the video, and some gritty Drop-D tuning (at least, what sounded like it) rounded out the song. The beloved “Thriller” came next, and the dance-exhausted crowd rallied and pushed through- who could help it? The hopeful singalong “Man in the Mirror” was the encore, which brought the crowd together in a bubble of peace and love. And then- just when you thought it was over- they jammed out to “Black or White.”
It was a spot-on tribute to Michael Jackson, but what was even better was that the musicians were so good that you could sense the versatility they possessed – even beyond this band. Overall, if someone were to ask: “Annie, were they OK?” the answer would be a resounding “YES.”