Sources: The News Herald Entertainment – ByJohn Benson| All Things Michael
Michael Jackson may have died five years ago, but his message and music live on today among fans around the world.
One group looking to keep the King of Pop alive is Who’s Bad, The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band, which returns to Northeast Ohio for a show April 4 at the House of Blues in Cleveland.
“When we started, we were like, ‘How about we do a funk band?’” said Who’s Bad horn player Ray McCall, calling from his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina. “We listened to Michael’s ‘Off the Wall’ album and heard a lot of horns in there. That’s when we said, ‘How about we just go ahead and do a Michael Jackson tribute?’
“We thought we could do this for a week or a month, but then it became a powerful thing.”
The members of Who’s Bad couldn’t have picked a worse time to form a Jackson tribute band. The year was 2003, and news had broken about allegations of child molestation against Jackson.
When he was acquitted two years later, Who’s Bad already was traveling around the East Coast with its five members – including leader Vamsi Tadepalli – performing material that begins with The Jackson Five and ends with Jackson’s 2001 album “Invincible.”
The outfit has performed more than 1,000 shows around the globe and has shared the stage with everyone from Aretha Franklin and The Backstreet Boys to The Four Tops, Boys II Men and Pitbull.
On the surface, a Michael Jackson tribute band can run the risk of beginning and ending with a tribute singer doing the moonwalk, but Who’s Bad has made a career by eschewing any novelty feel while paying close attention to detail.
“Michael is known for the moonwalk, but Michael overall as a performer is something that I don’t think a lot of artists even today can kind of come close to touching,” McCall said.
“Still, it was difficult to find a frontman who kind of covered all aspects of Michael, being an icon with range that is kind of ridiculous and having the presence on stage. We did find that someone in Taalib York, who has been a fan of Michael for a long time and studied his dancing and moves. He can really captivate the audience.”
Fans attending the show should expect to hear songs such as “ABC,” “Bad,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Thriller,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
When asked about the legacy of Jackson, McCall said there’s an element of authenticity and level of sincerity that makes the King of Pop the last great artist of his kind.
“Today how artists try to communicate lyrically has changed drastically, and it’s not just pop music or country music or rap,” McCall said. “It’s across the board. It seems to be less about communicating to the world or having a song that has a message that everyone can relate to.
“It’s all about having a hit that’s only going to last a couple of months, whereas with Michael and artists from back in the day, it was all about the record and the album giving you a complete story. It was really all about the music and the message in the music.”
Who: Who’s Bad, The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.
When: 8 p.m. April 4.
Where: House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $12.50 in advance, $15 day of show.
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