Niagara Gazette

July 30, 2012

Michael Jackson show shuffles back to Buffalo

BY JONAH BRONSTEIN, jonah.bronstein@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Nostalgia notwithstanding, pop music is a product for the young folks. Yet a generation of Americans came of age without ever getting to see the "King of Pop" perform his particular brand of musical magic in a live venue.

A child born in the U.S.A. on the same day as Michael Jackson's classic Thriller album would've had to begin attending concerts before attending elementary school or become a world traveler as a teenager to have seen him perform live.

Jackson toured nearly nonstop between 1969 and 1989. A 1970 show at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium was canceled due to threats on Michael's life, but he and his brothers returned three times in the late 70s and early 80s (portions of The Jacksons Live! album were recorded during one of two visits here in August, 1981) and once at Rich Stadium after Thriller turned Jackson into the world's biggest pop star. But Jackson's lone U.S. solo tour never came closer than Cleveland.

Over the last two decades of his life, Jackson performed almost exclusively overseas, only playing stateside on an occasional television show. At the same time, the quality of his music eroded, as did his popularity among young listeners who grew to know him more for his eccentric and sometimes scandalous behavior than for his song and dance brilliance.

"By the time I was of age to be interested in music, I viewed MJ as too much of a freak show personally to want to become a fan," said Derek Browning, a 30-year-old who grew up in Tonawanda and Detroit, home of the Motown record label that spawned Jackson's career.

But Jackson's death in 2009 has shifted the focus away from his lifestyle and back to his music.

"When I made it about the music only, I became an instant fan," said Browning, now a luxury car salesman in Toronto. "I then continuously played MJ records for three days straight, thinking to myself, wow, I wish I would've been able to focus on just the music a long time ago, because his records really are classics and still hold up to this day."

Michael Jackson's musical legacy, curated by longtime collaborator Greg Phillinganes, will be on glorious display Tuesday night at Buffalo's First Niagara Center, accentuated by another performing act with worldwide popular appeal, Cirque du Soleil.

"The aural experience alone," wrote Jackson biographer Joe Vogel, "is worth the price of admission," to the Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour show.

In a fitting tribute to Jackson, however, the show's visual artistry strives to enhance the music. Written and directed by Jamie King, the two-hour production features more than 60 international dancers, musicians and acrobats in more than 250 costumes fusing video projections, lighting displays and elements of 32 Jackson songs, a story arc beginning with "Childhood," culminating with "Man in the Mirror," and hitting all of the high notes in between.

After the North American leg of the tour wraps up this fall, the show will travel across Europe before taking up permanent residency in Las Vegas — making this a true once-in-a-lifetime event in Western New York.

Tickets can be purchased at the First Niagara Center Box Office, online at www.Tickets.com or by calling 1-888-223-6000.