Michael Forever: The Tribute Concert - Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 8 October 2011
Following months of anticipation and speculation in which artists were confirmed and some dropped out, rumours flew and fan groups complained, the Michael Forever tribute concert went ahead at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium this weekend. We sent along Sam Edwards, and this is her review of the night.
Tonight's extravaganza has been no stranger to controversy. Directed by music and television 'impresario' Chris Hunt - who made the documentary The Michael Jackson Story in 2003 - and produced by Jackson's ex-manager Ron Weisner, the event has come under attack by MJ followers worldwide, criticising its timing and lack of support from his estate.
It's difficult to know where to stand on this. If I invite my mates around for MJ karaoke during the trial and charge an entrance fee will I risk similar judgement? (concert organisers Global Live Events have apparently set up a trust fund for Jackson's children, so make of that what you will.)
The standing section's about three-quarters full as a leather clad Ne-Yo kicks off with what must be his hairbrush-in-bedroom-mirror fantasy, hand-twirling and side-sliding his way through Billie Jean. He hands over to JLS, who have a rather strong fan contingent present. They take on The Way You Make Me Feel armed with solid harmonies, with Oritsé taking the lead sporting a lovely 'Hi Mum' t-shirt.
The women in front have definitely visited the unofficial merch stall: sequin glove - check, white striped fedora - check. One of them, who shall be known as Lager Lady, appears to be on her eighth pint already, trying to pick a fight with the entire gig by screaming "Come on!" at the stage every 10 seconds.
Joined by Marlon, Tito and Jackie Jackson, JLS move on to Blame It On The Boogie and Shake Your Body which ends in a disco jam with audience eeh!-a-longs and Marlon shouting "Can you feel his spirit in the house tonight?" Um, yes?
Looking debonair in a white tux, Jamie Foxx sings a soulful Rock With You, inciting enthusiastic dance moves from the upper levels. "Come onnn!" shouts Lager Lady, her flailing proving the worth of those plastic pint lids.
It's more like a festival than a concert really. The flow of punters streaming back and forth from the bar makes it hard to retain a feeling of tension - that shared electric atmosphere you get with a great gig.
Alien Ant Farm who, despite having gained a few pounds since 2001, give an energetic performance of their Smooth Criminal cover, as well as a hard rock P.Y.T with mucho distortion, plenty of kit fills and 'indie' monochrome footage of them on the LED screens.
Leona Lewis. Photo: Dave Hogan
There's no Charlotte Church intro as billed in my setlist, so Leona Lewis takes to the stage, surrounded by ballerinas and cellos for Stranger In Moscow. There are more than a few tear-inducing moments; thankfully Lewis' inner diva gets chance to shine on I'll Be There (one of her X Factor trump cards) accompanied simply by an acoustic guitar. The girl can undoubtedly handle a stadium-sized audience.
A mature looking Craig David does a pretty smooth job on Human Nature before the living legends section. An impossibly smooth-faced Smokey Robinson soon has us reaching for the pocket tissues with She's Out Of My Life, then it's Gladys Knight's turn, putting everyone's vocal chords to shame with the motivational Believe In Yourself.
Jackson's three kids - the two Prince Michaels and Paris-Michael - are ushered onto the stage. It might be a cute moment if the littlest one (Blanket) didn't seem so terrified. Lager Lady breaks down entirely at this point, having to seat herself from the shock. Strange times indeed. It's here that you see the enormity of his fans' dedication and how deep his influence runs.
Beyonce's giant faux-'fro gets beamed in via satellite link and she sings, appositely, I Wanna Be Where You Are (but I can't fly in the third trimester). She's magazine-cover-perfect as usual. Foxx gives a shout-out to her and Jay-Z's unborn child; at this point I feel like I've lost all sense of what constitutes a celebration, but it seems rude not to clap.
Gladys and Smokey return for a duet of I Just Can't Stop Loving You, tail-ended by a cosy anecdote of when Knight first met the Jacksons in Chicago. I experience a huge school disco flashback as 3T and their dad Tito have a family stage gathering for Why and Heartbreak Hotel. Some vigorous stage-mopping is followed by East London dance troupe Diversity - amazing moves all round and what may be the cutest boy in history, moonwalking his baby 'fro across the floor.
Having seen a recent photo of La Toya Jackson I'm genuinely apprehensive during her mask-toting song intro. It becomes apparent as she barely sings along to Jam's ear-numbing, glass-shattering sound FX that she's been booked as the poor man's Janet (one of the family who didn't lend her support to this evening). Her undeniably strange Michael speech is interrupted as she almost gets taken out by one of the prop-carrying stage hands. "Tart!" shouts Lager Lady, which I think is a little harsh, though I think it's safe to say her bookings diary won't be filling up after this.
Luckily Cee Lo Green is on hand to get the crowd jumping with an impressive cover of Can't Help It. He wears the MJ daytime-pyjama range - a discreet sequin stripe adorning his joggers. Dude's got a voice. He sings Crazy and we all bob along happily.
Christina Aguilera. Photo: Dave Hogan
It feels like they're bringing out the big guns now as Christina Aguilera takes to the stage with her blonde Medusa locks and knee highs. Her loungecore rendition of jazz standard Smile (originally sung by Nat King Cole and covered by Jackson on 1995's HIStory) - bursting with Mariah-style improv - reminds us why she's so successful. I'm pretty sure she doesn't need the mic.
In the interval I mull over the absence of some of the biggest hits - Beat It, Thriller, Man In The Mirror - and any footage of Michael himself, which we can presumably attribute to licensing issues. Black Or White does appear but only in instrumental form for the dance acts. A closer inspection of the programme lends weight to this: the concert, we're told, "is not endorsed by the Michael Jackson Estate, the legal entity that looks after the intellectual property and other rights that pertain to Michael Jackson."
Pixie Lott. Photo: Dave Hogan
Second half! We mark the watershed with Xtina changing into her hotpants. Lager Lady and co are finally escorted out by security (the plastic lid obviously having failed the guy in front of her) and they miss out on Pixie Lott's You Are Not Alone. Pixie appears to be losing her voice though and I'm not convinced she can carry a song of this magnitude. I Want You Back is a more upbeat affair with a dance routine possibly too vigorous for a cheek-skimming dress. However, she keeps the thank-yous short and smiley; I may buy her upcoming album for this reason alone.
As I survey the crowd at 9.30pm there are lots of people staring ahead and I worry they're unsure as to why they came. Perhaps they've just been beaten into submission by the ribcage-rattling sound system. However by the end of Earth Song - done proud by gospel singer Yolanda Adams - my fears are assuaged when said starers rise to their feet in appreciation. Glo-sticks sway in the audience and I wonder whether they can open the roof briefly for Yolanda to get some wind machine effect. The choir's spine-tingling vocals are only slightly marred by the endless stream of toilet-goers and the eternally thirsty.
Three and a half hours in and Alexandra Burke is giving a spirited performance of Scream, soldiering through some apparent technical difficulties. Lava lamp visuals abound. The band get a shout-out while people mill around the choir and we're left to deduce that Jennifer Hudson has joined Black Eyed Peas on the absentee list. This irks me slightly as it means no Leave Me Alone, a personal favourite. Instead, several of the artists join together for Gone Too Soon and, despite a general atmosphere of uncertainty, they eventually settle into a kind of gospel jam session groove, taking turns on lead vocal.
And so we reach the finale. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough gets (almost) all and sundry up on their party feet, though with those empty seats in my eyeline I just can't shake that damp squib feeling. Despite the breaks in momentum we've been treated to some brilliant performances tonight, but now I just want to go home and listen to the man himself.
Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login.