Wednesday 14th March 2018 – Ipswich Regent – £28.50
Founded in 2003 and touring since the following year, hard-working American Michael Jackson tribute troupe Who’s Bad rocked the Ipswich Regent theatre in Suffolk last night as part of their ongoing UK tour. It’s a shame that the very same venue only hosted another tribute to the King of Pop in the form of Navi (commonly acclaimed the world’s number one tribute owing to his working relationship with MJ) a few short months ago, as otherwise the take up for this gig would no doubt have been far nearer to being sold-out. That said, the audience was healthy and up for a good time – and Who’s Bad more than delivered.
With 100% live vocals from impressive frontman James Times III backed by a real live band, the musicians interlaced their funky riffs and skilled free-styling with genuine MJ flourishes and sound effects straight from the albums to great success: the songs felt pleasingly authentic while being bassier and fuller. This well-structured two hour set played out much like how Michael Jackson himself formulated his own concerts: rousing dance numbers “Jam” and “Wanna Be Somethin'” to start; “Man in the Mirror” as a unifying, spirited encore; crowd-pleasing mainstays “Billie Jean”, “Thriller” and “Beat It” saved for the second half.
But where Who’s Bad impressed me most (speaking as a hardcore MJ fan) was in their diverse career-spanning selection which didn’t solely stick to the hits: “Love Never Felt So Good” from posthumous 2014 album Xscape was a welcome ‘modern’ inclusion, while saxophone player Aaron McCoy Jr gave Invincible and The Jacksons some love with between-songs solos of “Break of Dawn” and “This Place Hotel”. The band also concluded “Thriller” with a breakdown of “Threatened”, much as was the plan for Jackson’s ill-fated O2 residency This Is It.
The eight-strong company (including two backing dancers) were multi-talented masters, with the band – in particular McCoy Jr and trumpeter Ray McCall – often role-swapping to backing vocalists, members of the dance crew AND MC-ing while Times III nipped off for a costume change (and there were many). The audience interaction was strong, including a call out for someone celebrating their birthday and getting a girl up on stage to act as the object of affection during “The Way You Make Me Feel”.
In replicating the costumes, choreography, ad-libs and spirit of a Michael Jackson concert, Who’s Bad were a great success – and trust me I’m really hard to please. In-ear microphone issues during “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” did mean that Times III was – through absolutely no fault of his own – a little more static and less enthusiastic during these two songs (a pity given their popularity), but otherwise I really cannot fault a thing with this show – these guys are clearly big fans who put their all into delivering an authentic and well-oiled live experience, and they were on the mark for every “aoooow”, “he he”, pop, lock and moonwalk.
CR@B’s Claw Score: