Michael Jackson crane – the cherry picker live in concert!

Michael Jackson and his “Beat it” concert tour Crane! (Part 1!)

(Recently borrowed by Kanye West in his Glastonbury concert too!) AK

One of Michael Jackson’s most famous live stage stunts was the “Cherry picker” (or the “Crane”). Kenny Ortega, in “This is it” announced that this was an iconic moment to see Michael back on his crane. I began writing this article only to realise that it is going to be LONG – so i’ll split it up and start with Michael’s crane on the History tour!

We can list all the times that Michael Jackson has used the crane in his live shows:

1) Bad Tour
2) Dangerous Tour
3) History Tour
4) Michael Jackson and Friends
5) United we stand
6) Royal Brunei concert
7) Brit Awards – Earth Song
8 ) Wetten Daz – Earth Song
9) This is it

Let’s take a closer look at the shows. Michael used different types of cranes and cherry pickers for each show

History tour

Michael Jackson used the crane for his performances of “Beat it” and “Earth Song”, during his 1996/97 tour. The crane, for the first time, was protruding into the audience, straight out and flat. This caused a change in the dynamics between Michael and the audience. The distance between the fans and Michael was drastically increased which means that the atmosphere at the front was a lot less than his previous tours. Michael used the crane as a walkway during the first leg of the tour, during, “The way you make me feel” and rarely during “History”, where he would walk down and wave. The walkway was also used by the dancers in “Beat it” … overall, a wasted opportunity to get closer to the audience in my opinion.

Michael Jackson’s safety on the crane

Michael Jackson certainly performed to the maximum of his capability and obviously wasn’t overtly concerned about risk. Michael would not only hang out of the crane with his feet hooking on to the edge but during the History tour would hand out fully, just hanging from his arms and then pull himself back onto the crane.

Technically, the crane had smoke machines and lighting on the crane which, when Michael hung down could easily get hooked on – this is very apparent in shows like the Burcharest concert and shows like New Zealand where he nearly lost his shoe. They reduced the lighting covers for the second leg so that no lights, covers or piping was outside the lip of the crane platform for him to get hooked onto accidentally when he was pulling himself back on to the crane. They also added a safety piece of material to prevent any more hooking of his legs on the lights or light covers.

Safety harness?

Michael would probably never hook himself into a safety harness if he could perform without one and if we look on the crane during the tour we can see no safety harness EXCEPT on one concert – It looks like if we take a closer look at the Bucharest concert on the History tour we have some kind of arm restraint to either a) hold onto or B) for Michael to put his arm through – to prevent him from falling – either way, it was not used and was removed from the crane on later dates.

Notable incident – “Earth Song” fan intruder!

If you havn’t seen the stage intruder during this song, go and watch it here (6.20m). The question is “How did a fan get so close to Michael?”. What happened is that Michael got into the crane as he usually did, which is about 15 – 20 metres off the crowd, just as it got to it’s full height, a fan jumped over the barriers, onto the crane and right to the top of it and grabbed Michael. He then stayed up at the top of the crane with Michael until the conclusion of the section (the crane couldn’t be brought down immediately) and then he refused to let go of Michael. He had to be ripped off by security. You can read more about this incident HERE .

History tour in Brunei – No crane!

The only concert on the History tour, without use of the crane was in Brunei. The reason for this is because it was such a small audience – almost a private show of a couple of thousand people, that the area that the crane takes up, with the barriers and everything included would probably be 50% of the total audience area – so it didn’t make any sense – This concert had the audience as close as anyone could get on this tour. The area was still there, including the barriers, as if the crane were there, just a little smaller and without the crane. Another reason is that the crane, when doing it’s 360 degree revolution would go beyond the audience.

Beat it entrance – Brunei

The stage illusion from Thriller into Beat it was obviously affected by the lack of a crane, as Michael usually disappears from the contraption and appears on the crane. For this concert Michael arrived on the right hand side of the stage but on a hydraulic platform from underneath the stage, that is usually used by the dancers for “They don’t care about us” and “Thriller” – The change worked well. Michael obviously had Michael Bush remove his big black coat a lot earlier than usual and Michael also had a significant amount of time standing on stage getting the crowd going with his “hooooo’s!”, which is all usually done at the top of the crane.

Earth Song ending – Brunei

As the crane was missing, also was a big part of “Earth Song”. For this concert Michael performed the ending of the song as he usually has on other occasions, without the crane, just performing on the stage.

Beat it in Prague – opening night

I think that this was a great use of the crane – opening of “Beat it” – Prague opening night of the History tour. Although the beginning of the song was plagued with technical problems (ie the band messing up!), the beginning of this song had a much longer use of the crane. Michael basically performed the whole first verse of the song UP on the crane instead of, as would go on to be, on the stage. I think that this makes sense and adds to the spectacle! If you’re gonna go to that much effort to get a crane and push the audience so far back, you might as well use it! It added a little bit of variety, which the tour lacked at times.

Crane Speed and controls

It would seem that the crane was on some kind of mechanism that once it start’s it is easier to do a full rotation than to put it in reverse. We see this in Korea. When the intruder came on the crane the logical thing to do would be to reverse it and take it down (as it had not started it’s 360 degree rotation yet). We also see that when Michael steps off the crane early sometimes that the crane really bounces when it is paused. We obviously have some kind of delay. So, it is not easily controlled. For Beat it it goes straight up and straight down. For Earth Song it goes straight up, rotates 360 degrees, then straight down. Michael changes the time he jumps on during Earth Song from show to show which means that he ends it and jumps back off the crane at different times, altering the ending of the song. This is obviously a big piece of hydraulic machinery, unlike the Bad tour which seemed to be powered by weight transfer and balanced precisely.

The crane getting in the way?

The crane doesn’t get in the way of the show but if you looked closely you will have seen the crane being set up and taken down. For example, we have the walkway which is added to the stage which connects the stage to the arm of the crane.

This walkway is then removed whenever the crane is going to be used and THEN replaced with the crane’s platform and barrier. We see, if you look closely, the crane “Barrier” is moved and rotated to the left just after the start of “Beat it” when Michael has vacates it, on the tour. This is done by his stage manager who physically lifts the frame out of the crane arm and moves it out of the way, to the left, thus giving the audience a clear view without the obstruction of the crane AND the option for Michael to walk down the platform and use the crane as a kind of stage. If you were at the front row and took your eyes off MJ for 10 seconds, you may have noticed! 🙂

You can see this in action if you look very carefully at just before the 1 minute mark HERE (right at the BOTTOM of the screen) or the amateur recording of the Wembley, London, History tour concert too (also on youtube)

We will continue this soon!

By Anthony King (c)

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