“Is there anything more sickening than a cover band?”
A friend asked me this question before lining up for the premier performance of this year’s Jackson Vs Jackson – a gospel tribute to the music of both Michael and Janet Jackson. I’m writing this review to express that this year’s venture by the Gospo Collective was more than homage to two fantastic entertainers. It was no cheap cash-in, and no attempt to make a quick buck. Past reviews alone should communicate that much, but reading can be pretty difficult for those who aren’t fans of the Jackson siblings.
As the first of a 26 show run, onlookers were mainly die-hard Jackson fans who knew every song, every lyric, every musical nuance to every album, from Michael’s ‘Bad’ to Janet’s ‘Control’. That meant this particular audience consisted of some of the harshest critics the cast is likely to face - myself included. Despite this, all stages of the performance were met with resound and consistent applause.
“I just oppose concerts that are covers on principle”
It was more than a cover. There was legitimate originality in the arrangements and an authenticity in the musicality, especially through soloist and choir-leader Charmaine Jones, lifting the entire ensemble and completely engaging the audience at all times. We were met with full waves of multilayered vocals varying appropriately in dynamics, supported by instrumentalists and a robust backing choir. From mashing 1979’s ‘I Cant Help It’ with 1982’s ‘P.Y.T.’ to interweaving exchanges in 1991’s ‘Jam’ and ‘Remember the Time’, the broader overlay managed to keep pace without rushing through the classics too quickly.
Moving on, the choreography wasn’t uncoordinated or out of time, but felt rushed in places. This may have been due to the routine itself being subject to changes only days before opening night. Sound balancing also seemed a tad off at times. It was rare, but during certain transitions, the backing choir and most levels bar treble became inaudible. If I were to be incredibly nitpicky, I’d criticize the decision to exactly and clearly pronounce certain ‘Jacksonisms’ (see “you’re a vegetable” from ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’). Then again, such decisions demonstrate both the confines of composing for large choral groups, and that the arrangement itself goes beyond a cover or impersonation.
Even if you were to argue a tribute band or performance like Jackson Vs Jackson could fall under the ‘cover’ category, who are we to judge? Michael Jackson himself clearly found the idea of impersonation quite flattering. The man invited “Navi” the “World’s Number One Michael Jackson impersonator” to perform at his estate. His famous animated stint on the Simpsons was voiced by Michael, but sung by Kipp Lennon – A Michael Jackson impersonator, with Michael’s approval.
Regardless, Jackson Vs Jackson highlighted why we love the music of the Jackson siblings, and most importantly, displayed a fantastic showcase of South Australian talent. I look forward to next year’s iteration.
Star rating: 3/5