TOKYO — The crowd of 38,000 that saw Michael Jackson give his first performance ever as a solo artist on Saturday was ready to be captivated from the start. At the end it was captivated, but in a Japanese way.
The spectators, mostly in their 20s, had bought their tickets two months ago for the first of what was to have been a nine-show tour but now has been expanded to 13 performances in Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama.
No singer, foreign or Japanese, has matched that record. Nearly 400,000 tickets were sold in advance. Madonna, who appeared here earlier this summer, came the closest, filling stadiums five times. The shows are the start of Jackson's world tour--his first performances since the Jacksons' "Victory Tour" three years ago.
Excitement filled Korakuen Stadium, normally the home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team, when show time arrived.
A heavy drumbeat reverberated from 36 massive speakers on both sides of the stage in center field. The audience began clapping to the beat. Panels of bright white light slowly rose from the stage. Then, the lights dimmed suddenly and Jackson appeared.
A roar emerged from the crowd as Jackson began belting out "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,' " a song from his record-setting "Thriller" album. Spectators on the field and in the front rows of the stands jumped to their feet--and few sat down for the rest of the concert.
The verdict on Jackson appeared unanimous. The spit and polish, the gyrations and karate kicks, the celebrated "moon walk," the hand in the air, the often chime-like tone of the voice and--most of all--the energy were all intact.
Jackson came across with no trouble. But whether the audience came across to Jackson was a question.
His music faces no cultural obstacles but the social rules of reserve in public go a long way toward taming down even a mass of rock fans in Japan, just as they do at classical music performances where foreign conductors often have to rush back out on stage to keep applause going long enough to justify an encore.
Before the concert began, repeated announcements were made warning spectators to stay in their seats and threatening to end the concert immediately if any incident occurred. The sponsors could have saved their breath.
The audience Saturday night was college-age and older, with a smattering of middle-age men and women and parents accompanying their children. Adult foreigners, too, were seen in larger numbers than normal in stadium crowds in Japan. As a result, Michael-mania stayed largely beneath the surface for most of the night.
Applause for each of his numbers ended within five seconds. Indeed, the brevity of response appeared to be the chief reason why the concert, billed as a two-hour performance, ended in one hour, 38 minutes.
Not until 43 minutes into the concert did Jackson draw shouts along with applause at the end of a song. Even the portion of the crowd standing at their seats refrained from dancing until well into the performance.
"Startin' Something" started nothing. Nor did "Things I Do," "Off the Wall," "Human Nature," "Heartbreak Hotel" or "She's Out of My Life"--although the audience was moved by Jackson's emotional, no-frills performance of the heartbreaker that displayed the clarity of his voice as no other song on the program did. It took Jackson's most famous songs in Japan--"Beat It" and "Billie Jean"--to bring on the fever in full force.
"Shake Your Body" and "Thriller" kept the hard-won fever at a high pitch but "I Can't Stop Loving You," which has just become the No. 1 song in the United States, immediately lulled the spectators.
"Bad" woke them up again, only to close the 16-song show.
After the song ended, with the lights darkened, Jackson said, "Thank you. I love you. Good night!" There was no applause at all.
As the stadium remained darkened to allow the singer to depart, the spectators then started their longest applause of the evening--to signal they wanted more. When the lights came on to show they weren't going to get any more, groans and moans swept through the stadium.
The distant stage gave most spectators a view of Jackson in toothpick proportions. Two 24-by-18-foot TV screens, which offered close-ups, weren't much help, either. They were as far away as a center field scoreboard normally is and the images projected on them often were dark and hard to see.
There were no complaints, however. Asked what they thought of the show, four women in their 20s said in unison, "It was the best!"