Friday With Michael

For many of Michael Jackson’s fans, Friday, September 7th was a culmination of sorts. The quintessential icon of pop, who for years has endured an acrimonious barrage of ridicule aimed at him from an unrelenting media, finally had another day in the sun. Another day where only Jackson would call the shots and again display the spellbinding mastery of dance and rhythm which has helped shape his career since the age of five.

Hours before the concert was slated to begin at New York’s renowned Madison Square Garden (MSG), many fans began hawking anything from red multi-zippered jackets to old photos of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop.” Numerous fans donned vintage garb reminiscent of the Jackson so many of us remember growing up to. There was, for example, the man from London who had dressed up as a circus clown and had accidentally bought tickets to Monday’s show, but who was let in by sympathetic security guards. This man was single-handedly responsible for leading an entire section at MSG into thunderous chants of “We Want Michael” and “Who’s the King of Pop?”

Although my ticket had admonished me to arrive by 7:40PM sharp, the eagerly anticipated concert started nearly an hour later. Jackson, holding royal court, sat in a specially made box set apart from the crowd nearly 50 feet from the stage and about 30 feet to my right. He was flanked by longtime supporter Elizabeth Taylor and friend Macauley Caulkin. Perhaps most significantly, Jackson also chose to sit with his parents, Katherine and Joe Jackson. Joe Jackson, of course, caused a rift between himself and the Jackson children after allegations surfaced about his reputedly stern personality and strictness.

The evening began when Samuel L. Jackson took the stage to tout Jackson’s musical career and welcome the crowd. Unfortunately, due to audio difficulties which would also plague later performances, most of what he uttered sounded muffled. Still, the concert got off to a roaring start as Usher, Maya, and Whitney Houston put their own musical talents on display as they performed “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”. The triumvirate was followed, quite mysteriously, by a decidedly corpulent Marlon Brando reclining on a sofa and pontificating about child abuse, starvation, and disease. Brando’s demeanor and presence disrupted the flow of the concert and drew boos from the crowd until he announced Jackson had donated money to a new children’s hospital.

Following Brando, a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood stars appeared on stage. 13-year old Billy Gilman won the crowd’s affection after singing Jackson’s Oscar-nominated song, “Ben”; Liza Minnelli struggled with “You Are Not Alone”; Marc Anthony drew much applause for “She’s Out of My Life”; Shaggy teased the women with “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me”, and Destiny’s Child strutted their stuff as they sang “Bootylicious.”

Numerous other celebrities showed their support for Jackson’s music, both on stage and as spectators, including Gloria Estefan, who performed “I Just Can’t Stand Losing You”, N’Sync, Britney Spears, P. Diddy, Jay Z, Nelly, David Hasselhoff, Ray Charles, Slash (formerly of Guns N’ Roses), and Deborah Cox. At times it seemed as though Jackson was propping up his own musical career by asking so many contemporary superstars to take part in the tribute; on the other hand, I thought it was entirely fitting for them to pay homage to a man who had helped so decisively shape the very industry many of them called home.

One of the defining moments of night occurred when Jackson took to the stage with his brothers in a reunion not seen since the 1984 “Victory” Tour. The crowd burst into immediate applause and showed their unequivocal devotion. The Jackson Five showed that even after so many years, very little had had changed. They performed such numbers as “Can You Feel It,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I Want You Back,” and, one of the audience’s favorites by far, “I’ll Be There.”

After what seemed to be an endless pause in between acts, the legend himself took to the stage in a spacesuit and helmet; the crowd’s applause was nearly deafening. Jackson performed a number of the songs which helped define him as a musician, including “The Way You Make Me Feel” with Britney Spears. But Jackson was nowhere near being done. As the lights dimmed once more, there was Jackson on stage, standing next to a magician’s box, slowly removing many memorable items that many of us used to keep at home. Jackson thrilled the already incredulous crowd as he removed his trademark single white glove, his black sequined jacket, and black hat. The audience nearly lost it as the beat to “Billy Jean” began to blare over the speakers and Jackson began gracefully gliding across the stage, showing that even at 43, his moves were still incomparable. After dazzling performances of “Beat It” and “Black or White”, the concert concluded with a stirring rendition of “We Are the World,” conducted by Quincy Jones and featuring the likes of Kenny Rogers and Yoko Ono on stage.

Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years, marked Jackson’s first concert on US soil in over a decade. It was not only a convincing demonstration that Jackson’s artistic skills still know no bounds, but a revival of what some are calling “Michael Mania” in America. His new album, “Invincible,” appears in stores on October 30th.