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Taking Off the Gloves : Michael Jackson Opens First U.S. Solo Tour With a Sexy Show

February 25, 1988|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Unlike 1984's family-oriented "Victory" tour, Michael Jackson's first U.S. solo tour isn't exactly a G-rated affair.

In an apparent attempt to reinforce the macho image of his recent "Bad" album and video, the 29-year-old dervish from Encino displayed a far more aggressive sexual manner than on past tours. Besides traditional bumps and grinds, he gripped his crotch at least five times during the opening number before 17,000 appreciative fans at sold-out Kemper Arena.

Jackson, whose image was once more childlike and innocent, also kept his ungloved left hand hovering around his groin during most of "Heartbreak Hotel," "Beat It" and "Bad." Only during the lighter love songs, such as "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," did both hands drift back to the microphone.

If that wasn't enough, the four singer-dancers who joined Jackson on stage as space-punkers also mirrored his sensual antics.

Not everyone was pleased.

"I don't know why he has to do that," remarked Samantha Reid, a young mother who had brought her two preschool-age boys with her to the concert. "He doesn't have to do that grabbing thing. He's so talented."

If most of the chiefly middle-class audience who paid $23 apiece to see Jackson were at all put off by the bumps, grinds and flash dance, they didn't show it. Jackson was given ovation after ovation.

The Captain Eo-style spectacle was also heavy on other shtick:

--Jackson disappearing from one side of the stage in a puff of smoke and reappearing on the other side.

--Jackson, made up like a cast member from "Cats," stalking the stage with his backup dancers (dressed like zombies) during "Thriller."

--Jackson swinging out over the audience on a boom crane during "Beat It."

"He's a musical genius, that's all," said 19-year-old Scott McComb, who drove 350 miles to see the first U.S. stop on the worldwide "Bad" tour--and the first solo concert by Jackson ever in the United States. McComb paid $17 apiece for six Jackson T-shirts at one of the souvenir stands strategically situated throughout the basketball arena. Sweat shirts were retailing for as much as $50.

Pepsi, which paid a reported $15 million for the rights to sponsor the tour, handed out free souvenir cups of Pepsi to concertgoers in an attempt to counter the fact that Coca-Cola holds the concession rights at Kemper. Several 20-foot-high balloons in the shape of Pepsi cans also surrounded the stadium.

The next stop on the U.S. leg of the tour will take Jackson and his 33 tons of concert paraphernalia to New York for three shows next week at Madison Square Garden. Eleven more cities are on this portion of the U.S. tour, but the closest he will come to Los Angeles on this leg will be a Denver sojourn this spring. In June, the show moves on to Europe, where more than 1 million tickets have already been sold for a series of 17 outdoor concerts.

"He's good. He's great," said 21-year-old Chris Hanson before Tuesday's show began. The Kansas City hospital employee was on hand 3 1/2 years ago when Jackson opened his last U.S. tour as a member of the Jackson 5--the trouble-plagued "Victory" tour.

"I hope this is better than 'Victory' though," said Hanson. "That wasn't quite what I expected."

The 1984 tour, which opened to a sold-out summer audience of 60,000 at Arrowhead Stadium here, seemed jinxed from its outset. Sibling rivalry, compounded by management squabbles and recurrent problems with tour promoter Charles Sullivan, turned "Victory" into a financial and public-relations defeat, even though the well-rehearsed stage show seemed to please Jackson's legion of fans.

A good third of the "Bad" concert here in Kansas City was a reprise of the "Victory" show, down to dance steps and dialogue.

"Now we're going to give you the old songs the old-fashioned way," Jackson told the audience in precisely the same way he introduced a medley of Jackson 5 tunes to "Victory" audiences three years ago.

During his absence from the stage, Jackson appears to have been practicing neck kinetics that rival Linda Blair's performance in "The Exorcist." The patented Jackson moonwalk is now so effortless that the singer does it in double time. One new shtick has him caught in a moonbeam, trying desperately to claw his way out a la Marcel Marceau.

In one duet, he held hands with a blond torch singer outfitted as a prom queen on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." In another number, Jackson chased a Lauper-esque guitarist from one side of the stage to the other.

A classic showman, Jackson seems to remember what's worked for him in the past. The legendary single white-sequined glove was back for both "Billie Jean" and "Beat It."

But the glove was gone by the time a flashing marquee lowered to the stage for the finale, flashing the rhetorical question "Bad. Who's bad?" The hoodlum image that Jackson has cultivated since the "Bad" album debuted last summer came across loud (very loud) and clear with every performer on stage for a free-form pogo-dance that resembled a "Max Headroom" street scene.

A double encore of two more recent singles--"The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Man in the Mirror"--ended the show precisely at 10 p.m., two hours after the lights first went down in the arena.

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