Written by WhosBad on Apr 05, 2011 at 11:12 am
Thursday, March 31, 2011
When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, the world lost one of its greatest pop stars. Luckily, an artist's music can always survive his death, and people will likely play and enjoy Jackson's music for years to come.
Of course, some fans take their infatuation with Jackson's work to another level. Who's Bad — the self-proclaimed 'Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band' — is a collective of like-minded musicians who tour the world with two goals: keeping Jackson's memory alive and giving new and old fans room to dance.
Tonight, Who's Bad brings its act to Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, just miles from its now-historic concert at Washington's 9:30 Club on the night of Jackson's passing.
"That was a really moving show," said guitarist Patrick Cross. "The first show we had booked there sold out in about 17 minutes after he passed away. They wanted to add another show because so many people weren't able to get tickets for that show and were going to the box office and asking if there was any way they could be part of the experience. So we added the second show, and it was just a really magical time with all the fans there."
Who's Bad formed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was spearheaded by jazz performance major and saxophonist Vamsi Tadepalli. The group got together in 2004 and has since steadily grown in popularity, playing more than 700 concerts all over the world.
With an air of reverence, Cross points to Jackson's death as the catalyst for the group's sudden explosion in popularity.
"It's really important to pay an homage to any artist that people think were influential or people have enjoyed, especially artists who are no longer around," Cross said. "It's really the only chance that people would be able to see and hear that artist's music in a live concert setting."
Of course, tribute bands across the world run into the same issues — for instance, whether a group can sound like the original act is essential to the band's success.
The acceptance of Who's Bad lies entirely in the hearts of the fans, but the band seems completely assured in its ability to deliver on all fronts.
"I've never actually directly had to deal with" disapproving fans, said Who's Bad member Taalib York. "I've always seen love from the audience. I've never gotten a boo or a negative response from the audience."
York has the astronomical task of filling Jackson's shoes, and that doesn't just mean hitting the high notes. As Who's Bad's resident "Michael," York's goal is to embody Jackson and his music from head to toe: vocals, makeup, costumes and dance.
While York admits he loves to partake in a lot of on-stage improvisational dance, over the years the band has evolved to feature a wealth of choreography, multimedia displays and shifting set lists in its long performances.
"It's not one or the other," York said while discussing which elements were hardest to perfect. "It's putting it together with energy live that is the hardest thing, but at this point I've balanced it out."
Because Cross is more motion-restricted by his guitar, he found adapting to the energetic movements tough at first. But after so many shows, he's found that he and the rest of the band can still let loose on the stage.
"One of the things I always loved about music when I went to a concert was that it has this ability to transport you away from whatever problems you might be experiencing in your life," said Cross. "We try to have a lot of fun and make sure that everyone out there in the audience enjoys it."
According to the two players, the band's most common complaint comes when they don't play a song an audience member wanted to hear, a problem most bands encounter at some point.
As far as dealing with the darker corners of Jackson's life, particularly the infamous media disaster toward the end of his career, Who's Bad feels no need to delve into or even acknowledge these issues.
"Obviously people are going to have things to say," York said. "People can tell if you're the kind of person that's going to accept a statement like that. I always say that they can smell I'm not trying to make fun of Michael Jackson from a mile away — when you see me and the performance and how much I devote myself to the character of Michael Jackson, I wouldn't be OK with even answering a small question. I don't even like hearing the jokes."
The singer looks to Jackson as one of the most important musical icons of his childhood. According to York, emulating Jackson is no problem at all.
The success of the band's sound is still up to the fans to decide, however. With hundreds of shows spanning the globe and new venues opening up for the band in South America and the Mediterranean, it seems the audiences have already decided. For the band members, as long as people still want to hear Jackson's music, Who's Bad will rock onward.