BEN: A Tribute to Michael Jackson (Live Review)

The Apex, Bury St Edmunds –21st September 2017 – Tickets £21.00

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DANCING MACHINES

As my nearest and dearest will attest, I am very much a staunchly-protective Michael Jackson fan – as evidenced by the fact that I was nearly reduced to tears of outrage while watching Cirque Du Soleil’s Immortal World Tour when it hit the o2 back in 2011 (but that’s another story). Since losing my idol in 2009, it’s hard for even official Estate-licenced tributes to cut the mustard, the man really was a one off. “Stay away then!” you may yell, but that misses the point of supporting and celebrating the man, the music and the performances I have loved and cherished since I was 7 years old.

Having already seen JACKSON Live in Concert a couple of years ago when their exhausting tour schedule last saw them stop off in Bury St Edmunds’ modern Apex venue, I knew what to expect: a fully-blown two-hour MJ concert experience – albeit on a smaller scale – with one heavily made up Michael (who goes by the name “Ben”) and two backing dancers making their way through an incomparable four-decade long greatest hits catalogue from “ABC” to “They Don’t Care About Us” (sorry, Blood on the Dance Floor and Invincible!).

Ben sings 100% live throughout, with music provided by a live band which consists of bass and lead guitarists, a drummer, keyboardist and backing singer. While the unnaturally high voice Ben emulates did, on the rare occasion, break a little, it’s an admirable impression which Ben sticks to strictly, even when addressing the audience to plug their mailing list, or thank his musicians. Add to this the plethora of energetic dance routine he pulls off over the course of the gig, and his range and stamina really must be commended – not once did he seem out of breath or flagging, even managing to induce some giggles from the crowd with his humorous repartee.

His company also must be highly praised; the live musicians – allowing for many a guitar solo and impromptu flourish – really aided the concert experience, while his sole backing singer (who he teasingly remarked was with him for the last time before departing for a “career at Morrisons”) was a real talent when she soloed for a verse of “I’ll Be There.” In a way, it’s a shame that a full duet (perhaps on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”) wasn’t worked into the set list, but maybe it had been in years gone by?

Because what was most noticeable about my second experience of JACKSON Live in Concert was how different the set-list was this time around. Okay, so the fan favourites are all still in place (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” will always be a perfect opener, while “Thriller” is a mainstay regardless of the season and “Billie Jean” is an electrifying encore), but the ordering was greatly shaken up. Songs MJ usually kept to the rear of his sets, such as “Earth Song”, “Black Or White” and “Beat It” were ‘promoted’ to the first half, while “Bad” and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” were performed in full, with last time’s left-field selection “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” dropped.

It’s good for the energy of the show to mix things up and keep things interesting, and everyone on stage really was at the top of their game. The elaborate dance routines were performed with verve in a remarkably vast and stop-on wardrobe of costumes which closely replicated the originals as seen on stage and screen. Most remarkable were the ‘ghouls’ who haunted members of the audience before the ensemble dance on “Thriller” and the full military get-up which looked like a perfect recreation of the “Drill” dancers from This Is It. Sometimes it was hard to believe there were only three dancers on stage!

As a huge fan myself, I was hugely receptive to – and appreciative of – all the nods and winks Ben and crew made to all eras of the King of Pop’s career, from “Billie Jean” ad libs and dance moves plucked straight from the 2001 30th Anniversary Celebration shows to the “Light Man” overture which would have kicked off 2009’s planned This Is It residency. As well as being consummate performers, these entertainers are also fans and such adulation shines through as they rocked their way through their blistering set. I knew what to expect and still JACKSON: Live in Concert blew me away, and judging by the enthusiastic reaction from the up-for-it audience, I was not alone in my appreciation.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

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