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The Jacksons, Santander, Spain

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The famous saying « Never two without three » has often come back to my mind after seeing The Jacksons in Carcassonne in 2014 and in London the following year since I felt I would like to see Michael’s brothers on stage again. But those last years the group would no longer tour France, so I had to choose a date abroad during my summer vacation to grant my wish. After some hesitation between Edinburgh and Barcelona, ​​Santander was finally chosen.

It was the opportunity to discover this beautiful port city in the north of Spain providing an idyllic setting to « Los Conciertos de la Campa » festival with its stage set on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. However, my Spanish is quite limited but I manage to get by with some « Quiero Coca Cola Zero, por favor » and other « Muchas gracias »! Those few words having allowed me to survive, I can fully appreciate the concert. It is inevitably controversial for some fans in the community but I dare to imagine that my exalted enthusiasm while writing this review could make some skeptics change their mind. Indeed, a lot of fans do not understand the interest of seeing Queen without Freddie Mercury, and we could easily feel the same regarding the Jacksons without Michael… but still !…

…Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 – 50 years and two days after the Jackson brothers auditioned in front of Berry Gordy at Motown. We must praise the fact that the band still exists and performs on stage today. I realize this is a blessing as the musicians come up on stage and a giant screen lightens, unveiling many archive images under the sonorities of « I Want You Back », the first J5 hit. The tension rises a notch with the sounds of the flashes of the photographers revealing some sublime shots of the « Victory Tour ». Many pages of the stories of the Jackson world pass before our eyes, and it feels like we are taking off at full pelt.

That’s when the brothers logically come in with the aptly named « Can You Feel It ». The opening song is that of the « Triumph Tour » but Tito, Jackie, Marlon and Jermaine start by taking off their sunglasses as they did in 1984, as if they were drawing in different eras to offer the best show today. Marlon stirs up the crowd from the very first notes and this is only the beginning ! Drums are as punchy and effective as ever and give us the same almost indescribable emotion. The two original performers, Randy and Michael, are replaced by each of the brothers sharing the verses to show that they split roles in a fair way because no one wants to replace Michael. His soul seems to be here among us and we can only see this show as the best tribute of a group to its leader.

No time to catch our breath – the brothers get on with « Blame It On The Boogie », a song that is logically present given its status as an essential track in their discography. It is true that this extract from the « Destiny » album is a joyful and festive song bringing a spirit of communion with the audience. The archive footage on the giant screen is documented by the 1979 American Bandstand performance ! The desire to document each song with old performances obviously reminds us of all these videos we watched on VHS for many years. Old memories come back to our mind when we did not necessarily imagine that it would happen by attending a concert of the original surviving members of the Jackson 5 sharing these moments with their public.

It’s time to move on with the song « Rock With You », against a backdrop of rhinestones and sequins, not to mention Rod Temperton’s Marlboro cigarette pack which is part of the ambiance of that fabulous hit. It was performed during the « Destiny », « Triumph » and « Victory » tours and has a certain emotional connection with the group. From a more personal point of view, I attended two concerts of Michael Jackson without hearing this extract of the « Off The Wall » album. The brothers’s comeback on stage thus allows to rediscover some hits played and sung live, and that’s also a reason why I am not denying myself the pleasure.
This journey back in time takes us to 1976 with the track « Enjoy Yourself ». The group had just left Motown for Epic and get their spirit of artistic freedom back under the benevolence of producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff from Philadelphia Records. A page of history that had to be evoked tonight, like that first single under the name of The Jacksons. When the band performed on stage in 1981 and 1984, one would lack the necessary distance to measure its importance but it totally makes sense today. In a similar way the group continues with « Show You The Way To Go », the other single from their first album at Epic Records and Marlon takes this opportunity to make the audience sing along with him as if he symbolically wants to make everybody realize how important those lyrics are. Indeed, it is time to look how far the Jackson siblings have come to finally get here, in this Iberian city one night of July 2018. It seems like a way to slow down time and measure all the joys and sorrows that are the lot of a family life and that everybody experiences.

Then, it’s time to go for some sort of a ritual with the next track, « Lovely One » being a key song at every Jacksons live concert. That extract from the « Triumph » album used to be played at every show during the 1981 and 1984 tours, and was so inescapable that it survived until the first part of Michael’s « Bad Tour » in 1987. Jermaine still keeps the lead singing, but his brothers are not outdone and indulge into a choreography that reminds us of many dance steps of the 80s. All the brothers are now in their sixties, but that does not mean they should save their energy. Jackie and Marlon are now wiping their faces with towels but their willingness to get involved is still there. Trying to perform a song the same way they did 37 years before surely shows their resistance to the weight of years.

That does not mean you can’t slow down from time to time, and actually, it’s time for a break with a video interlude including the song « 2300 Jackson Street ». The family hit sounds obvious to show many archives pictures and Katherine and Joe Jackson’s testimonies. The latter has just passed a few weeks earlier and it makes that video document all the more emotional. Reminding us that everything started from a little house in Gary, Indiana, what unfolds before our eyes is not only a concert – it is a retrospective of the history of the Jacksons in a musical museum. The brothers’ comeback on stage follows the same path since Marlon makes this shared moment last by delivering a speech to thank the public for its support, before haranguing the crowd and asking if we want to have a good time. Tito immediately suggests some Motown classics and the audience can only shout ‘Yes !’, especially when Jermaine now takes his bass like he did at the Ed Sullivan Show in 1970.

So it’s time to start that Jackson 5 Medley with « I Want You Back » and to keep on with this tradition that the band had initiated and that Michael took back on his solo tours. With a choreography similar to that of the Motown years and Jackie on the front line starting singing, this travel through time is all the more pleasant as it goes with some images from the J5 cartoon. I am so amused to rediscover them that I almost forget to notice the group immediately follows up with « ABC » and « The Love You Save ». In an attempt to clear me for that brief inattention I would say that everything is very fluid and efficient in that series. Of course that 3-songs medley can only be well-proven since the group was already doing it in 1971. Indeed we shall not forget that those were their first three singles ranking number one at the Billboard Hot 100.

However, and so much the better, a Motown medley has never been so long since the brothers came back on stage in 2012 for the Unity Tour. We might remember that we had to make do with three tracks as from the « Victory Tour », and also during MJ three solo tours. Today, the Jackson brothers make the pleasure last even longer by adding « Dancing Machine » to the program just like they did at the Madison Square Garden in 2001 for the band’s last performance with the King of Pop. I can only praise that excellent initiative that gives me the opportunity to hear it live. I remember listening to that song for the first time while watching « Moonwalker » at the cinema when I was 10 years old. I then discovered Michael Jackson doing the robot in the 70s and I realized that his world was not limited to « Thriller » and « Bad » – that everything was much larger with that artist who stretched all the limits… This tribute to the Motown years that started on the run now takes a more emotional direction with « Never Can Say Goodbye », as it was the case for the brothers’ performance at Motown 25 in 1983. That special emotion goes on with « I’ll Be There » which, from a traditional point of view, keeps its status of the perfect final song for that time travel to the 70s. The Afro hairstyle and the flared trousers have disappeared but the state of mind of that era is still there. Tito still has his guitar while Jermaine sings Michael’s lead, leaving his own vocal part to Marlon.

We could easily think that the concert will resume with an up-tempo track but that is not the case at all when many photos of Michael appear on the giant screen and make this moment of meditation last a little longer until the first notes of « Gone Too Soon » can be heard. Thus, Jermaine takes the center of the stage to pay tribute to his brother, which reminds me of his performance of « Smile » on July, 7th 2009 at the Staples Center while the whole world was watching. The other brothers sit back in a spirit of meditation but I can notice Jackie staring at his younger brother while he is singing. It seems that many memories are resurfacing – at least that is what everybody in the audience must feel at that moment. The artist guided us all throughout our experience as a fan, and like his brothers we will always have this desire to pay tribute to him.

After that torrent of emotions, it is time to have a break and go back to a more festive atmosphere. And the timing is good since the giant screen now shows the cover of Tito’s new solo album. The guitarist takes this opportunity to step in the front of the stage and play his track « We Made It » – it is very pleasant and exciting, and shows that the brothers still have a desire to make music with new material. Previously, Jermaine used to play his personal medley at that time of the concert but Tito’s current musical creation deserved a change in the setlist.

As for the next song, I should be getting used to its presence since it has been in the setlist for several years now. And yet, I still feel that little thrill of surprise when I hear « Can’t Let Her Get Away » is on the menu. It is true that this extract from the « Dangerous » album had never been performed live or released as a single. So it seemed that it would just stay in the closet until the end of times, but fortunately that was not the case. Actually it is a highlight of the concert with each brother presenting a musician performing a solo. It’s funky and groovy with a New Jack Swing atmosphere – an explosive cocktail ! It was pretty audacious to choose to include that song in the setlist, but sometimes fortune favors the brave ! Plus, the band really has a ball during that performance, especially Marlon who can show his dancing skills to their full extent.

Still, it is time to get back to a more conventional pattern with the introduction of « Heartbreak Hotel (Aka This Place Hotel) » that can easily be identified from its very first notes since it is a classic song. With a status similar to that of « Lovely One » that was mentioned above, it is shortened to get straight to the point. Through the tours and years, it had turned out to be played like a rock’n’roll track, but now it sounds more like it did during the « Triumph Tour ». For instance, Tito’s guitar solo sounds a lot more jazzy, just like it did in 1981.

However, it is the year 1984 that comes to my mind as soon as the band starts with the next song, which is, of course, the opening song of the « Victory Tour » – « Wanna Be Startin ‘Somethin' »! The comparison with that legendary tour that thirty-four years ago and following the Thriller-mania, may seem superfluous, but this way I can look back at Tito, Jackie, Marlon and Jermaine’s experience. These same people seemed unapproachable to me and like some kind of imaginary figures from another time, not to mention that series of concerts on a continent that seemed just as inaccessible. The « Victory Tour » was so special that there was not a single new song from the new eponymous album in its setlist. Maybe Marlon could perform his song « Body » to ward off the fate, especially since it remains close enough musically speaking to the extract from the « Thriller » album.

Well, maybe some other time, because the brothers follow a classic pattern with the excellent « Shake Your Body » that finished the concerts in 1981 and 1984 in a magnificent way. Plus, it is the best selling single in the career of the group, so it is unlikely to be left out. Actually, it still lasts about fifteen minutes at least with the same choreography as in 1978 and 1984. It is also the opportunity for the band to be as one with the audience and have them clap their hands while the musicians are getting wild on technical demonstrations. Indeed, Jermaine is playing his bass again ! As for me, I am so used to this final that I assume the concert is over when the brothers greet the crowd and leave the stage, but only after Marlon and Jackie have shaken hands with the people in the first row.

Oh, but no ! The audience shouts « encore ! », and the band comes up on stage again to my surprise. Like a penalty kick totally defeating a goalkeeper, I can hear the guitar riffs of « State Of Shock » ! Finally, here comes the extract from the « Victory » album that I did not expect anymore ! Not need for Mick Jagger when Jackie takes the vocals and enjoys acting as a rocker with his brothers ! That’s the way the evening is ending with the satisfying feeling that we had the chance to hear many Jacksonian musical gems live again. « Man Of War », « Good Times » and « When The Rain Begins To Fall » used to be in the setlist too a few years ago, and it is worth emphasizing that, although its structure keeps some foundations, it also regularly changes over the years.

I am now leaving with many memories in mind but also in my suitcase. I enjoyed visiting the merchandising booth to get a #StudyPeace cap signed by Marlon, plus Tito’s album and a souvenir poster of that concert in Santander. But meeting the group just after the show will remain unforgettable, of course. It was the opportunity to give each brother a copy of the book « Let’s Make HIStory » and to present and explain that project while taking a souvenir photo. Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie and Tito also did the HIStory, so I am grateful that they make it last as much as they can…

For more infos, read my book « The Jacksons : Musicographie 1976-1989 » (French Edition, 2014), about their epic story during the CBS years.

www.thejacksons.com

BRICE NAJAR
FRANCE

Né à Annecy en 1979. Il est l'auteur de trois ouvrages liés à l'univers musical de Michael Jackson. Le premier aborde sa discographie en solo, à travers ses singles parus entre 1979 et 2008. Le second revisite les albums avec ses frères, au sein du groupe The Jacksons, de 1976 à 1989. Chacun de ces deux ouvrages, bien qu'indépendant, est donc le complément idéal de l'autre. Pour son livre suivant, Brice reste dans cette même thématique musicale mais dans un concept différent. "Let's Make HIStory" est un recueil d'entretiens avec des protagonistes du double album "HIStory" de 1995. Une façon de décrypter le travail en studio du Roi de la Pop.