Saturday, 26 December 2009

2. Jam - The Breakdown

So.  The 'talent' has just vaulted through the stage and stands statuesque, motionless.  Sparks rain down behind him and the crowd are going crazy.  The air is thick with anticipation; the tension palpable.

The first song of the set is the title track from the 'Dangerous' LP, "Jam".  The song isn't necessarily one of MJ's greatest hits of all time, but it certainly has his trademark 'snap'.  The thing I'd like to point out here is that the song contains a 'dance breakdown', something which has been reproduced by pop boy bands of the past 10 years or so.  Check out the following video from the 5 minute mark;8-year-old me thought this was amazingly cool:

Amazing.  I can't wait to talk about the show's lighting, as this is one thing that's struck me more and more as I've re-watched the concert (an edited version was recently shown on BBC2 as part of a night dedicated to MJ), but I'll need to find out a little more about it first.  There's an AWFUL lot going on onstage - I may well try and contact the LD and see what he remembers about his design.

During my latest viewing of the show, I couldn't help but wonder whether MJ sang live or lip-synched. I think I've come to the conclusion that he sang most of the tracks live but that he may well have 'mimed' for a few of them, particularly the more 'active' numbers.  I think it'd be fair to say that not even MJ could do some of the things he does on this tour AND sing every song live.  If you've ever seen that video of Britney on YouTube, revealing what her headset mic actually picks up during the course of a song while she's miming, you'll understand.  Some of the songs (mostly the slower numbers, or ones he's traditionally sung into a handheld such as 'Billie Jean') he sings into a handheld; others (like 'Jam') he's on a headset mic.  If you listen to his vocals in this song, I think it's safe to say he's actually doing them live, what with all the heavy breathing and some missed vocals, not that it matters.  'Jam' isn't really about the crooning, it's more about the dancing, the rapping, the moving, the...well...jamming.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

1. Main Titles - 'Brace Yourself' / 'The Toaster'

First off, and before we even get to any of the 'songs' on this setlist of blog posts, I think it's important that you watch this video.  'Brace Yourself' was a 3 minute intro video that was played at the beginning of every show on the Dangerous tour.  The video is basically a montage of the billions of people MJ has played to, the places he's visited, the albums and movies he's released, and is basically a pre-show propaganda piece designed to warm up the audience and get the girls screaming.  And scream they do:

I hope you'll forgive the hackneyed use of Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana', a dramatic choral piece that has since been used everywhere from movie trailers to 'Pop Factor' TV shows. This was my first time hearing this piece of music and every time I hear it now, my mind drifts back to this opening scene from the show.

A point you'll probably hear me re-iterate over and over again over the course of this blog is just how much MJ inspired me, but possibly not in the ways he inspired most. I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to sing, dance, perform or create anywhere near as well as him, but the way he set up his live musical performances to be so much more than just a 'gig' was truly spellbinding. Most of my songwriting and ideas for live shows stem from wanting to create a tangible feeling of emotion, whether it be awe or elation, but all in a kick-ass rock and roll style. This, in essence, was what MJ did. The intro video was all part of gearing the crowd up for the next two hours, an experience which might just change their lives, and I don't think it's naive to think like that.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but a good show really stays with me - like the fist coming at the fans at the very end of the video, a good show can really knock the wind out of me. After seeing U2 perform in Cardiff this year, the only show I've ever seen to come near the realm of MJ proportions, I couldn't get the images and sounds out of my head for days. All I wanted to do was view countless YouTube videos and listen to live bootlegs, desperate to regain some of the feeling. Maybe I'm over-sensitive, but there's not a lot else that does that to me, not even movies.

The other thing this video hopefully does is show you MJ how he was viewed in 1992 - and how I remember him. For me, everything after that time was moot; he'd already written more outstanding songs than any other artist I've ever known, he'd played to countless millions around the globe, he'd tried his hand at so many things. His was a life well-lived. I hope this doesn't sound too weird, but for me, that was kind of like the pinnacle of MJ. After that time, I don't think I would have minded if he'd never released another great record. Every time he'd resurface with new material, I was less and less interested. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, but I think a part of me wanted to remember the almost faultless string of hits he'd had, and not let them be tarnished by whatever the next musical direction or media scandal was.

Whatever was said about him, it is undeniable that he was a truly great performer and possibly the greatest entertainer I will ever see. His entrance shortly after the intro video is proof positive of this. MJ is basically 'launched' into view from beneath the stage via a pneumatic lift in a move that was dubbed "The Toaster". With a cat howl he explodes onto the stage into a hail of sparks and explosions. What better way for a man this big to make his entrance. Check this out:

I can only imagine what this must have been like to observe first hand.  MJ knew that one of the most powerful moments of the whole show was the anticipation of greatness, and he totally played on this.  Who else could have leapt onto a stage, then stood statute, completely still, for the next FOUR minutes, captivating their audience?  Four minutes is a LONG time to watch a guy not move, and all the while keep cheering.  The crowd lapped it up.  This would most definitely have got me in the mood to jam, but more on that in the next post....

For now I'll leave you with a final video I just stumbled across, a Pepsi-propaganda-piece about the Dangerous tour which, even by today's standards, would probably be considered quite a show.  Thank goodness this was all done back before they'd invented the carbon footprint....


Until next time, Jackson fans!

Sunday, 22 November 2009


I must have been around 7 or 8 years old when I fell in love with Michael Jackson (in the most un-molesty sense of the phrase).  His voice, his moves, his music, his magic - he was less like a performer to me and more like a fictional superhero of sorts.  And this was before my interest in and passion for music had even begun to develop - it's strange; I always think of ELO or Oasis or even Scooter as my first musical 'interest', but on closer analysis, MJ was there way before all that.

My interest in the man, the legend, probably peaked in 1992 with the BBC screening of the HBO produced 'Live From Bucharest - The Dangerous Tour' concert film.  I vividly remember begging my parents to tape it for me (as it was screened after my bedtime) and to make sure there was enough tape space to capture it all.  In the subsequent weeks, months and even years, I wore out the old VHS tape from watching it, awestruck.

The set list is any fan's fantasy set list; even the lesser-known songs (to me) were spellbinding, especially impressive as the majority of them were hits before I was even born.  The true beauty of the show, and the true value of Jackson's performance, was that the wonder and awe was not only limited to the music and the dancing, but on a broader level the show as a whole was a spectacle to behold; a magical nether-world where  anything he dreamed was possible.  I've yet to see a show like that again - there are obviously shows that do the things he did, but with them it's the spectacle of the show itself that you come to see; here is a world where everything that happens amazes and yet all that amazes is only a spectacular by-product of the music of an amazing pop concert.

Fast-forward to 2009, and a tortured and broken Jackson is no longer with us.  Years of media stress drove him to an escape through drugs, which then lead to his unfortunate and possibly accidental death.  I feel little but sorrow for the loss of such an amazing icon, but on a more personal level, I feel sorrow for the loss of an obviously troubled human being.

His youth was stolen from him, the pressure to perform, achieve, impress leaving no time for a normal childhood.  Next, he hits the big time and the media dog him with bizzare stories (some of the more strange of which being propagated by the man himself), casting him more into the public eye than ever.  Medical problems, his much-documented skin disease and assorted cosmetic surgeries leave a proportion of the populous reaching for torches and pitchforks.

Then came the molestation accusations - whether these were fabricated by the families involved for monetary gains or whether the allegations were true is not for us to discuss.  If the allegations were in fact true, then I can only summise from his general persona and former personal troubles that he was simply a man with a problem, like many others before him, only he was unable to escape the cold light of justice long enough to get help and try to make restitution for any wrongdoings.

All of this paints an extremely bleak picture of an extremely talented and unique individual caught in a world of pain from which he was unable to escape no matter how hard he tried.  Maybe he's in a better place now - maybe not.  I'd personally love to have him on my list of people I can jam with in Heaven, nestled somewhere between Johnny Cash and The Edge.  Whatever the outcome, no-one can dispute that we lost an absolute freaking legend this year, and it's going to be a long, long time before any of us who truly appreciated him get over it.

I'd like to, therefore, take a little of your time to explain some of the reasons I believe him to be such a magic individual, and why I will miss the guy an awful lot.

I recently re-acquired the aforementioned concert, and one viewing took me back to 1992, reminding me of all the things that had obsessed my 8-year-old mind.  I think  that pretty much everything I loved about Jackson can be found in the songs of this show, and so I'd like to just write a short list of posts over the coming days and weeks, documenting and investigating the show and sharing the things I've come to love so much about it.

Let's end this post, and start the investigation, with the set list of that concert, and a look at possible things to discuss from the show/titles for subsequent posts:

1. Main Titles ('Brace Yourself') - 'The Toaster'
2. Jam - The Breakdown
3. Wanna Be Startin' Something - The Music
4. Human Nature - The Lighting
5. Smooth Criminal - The Spectacle / The Patented Shoes
6. I Just Can't Stop Loving You - The Drama
7. She's Out Of My Life - The Emotion
8. I Want You Back / The Love You Save - The History
9. I'll Be There
10. Thriller
- The Magic
11. Billie Jean - The Dancing
12. Working Day And Night - The Band
13. Beat It
- The Mechanics
14. Will You Be There - The Filler Act
15. Black Or White - The Movies / The Rock
16. Heal The World - The Environment
17. Man In The Mirror -The Anthem / The Passion / The Jetpack Switcheroo

Can I also advise anyone who wishes to do some extra-credit homework before the series of posts begin that I now realise the whole show is readily downloadable from the usual Torrent repositories, or for ease of viewing, it's also up in its entirety on YouTube in a variety of formats/playlists, but I will probably be posting clips to illustrate points as the series progresses.

Until then - Adieu!!