The “Michael Jackson and Friends” concerts were performed in June 1999. The first concert was held in Seoul, Korea on 25th June 1999 and the second show was held in Munich at the Olympic stadium on 27th June 1999. The second show in the series was very eventful and it was the last time I saw Michael Jackson perform in a proper concert setting just like old times and it was to turn out into a very eventful night.
The concert series entitles “What more can I give” was a benefit charity concert for “the children of Kosovo” and had a long list of performers from Luther Vandross to Vanessa Mae to Status Quo! The song by Michael, “What more can I give” was apparently to be premiered. It’s title was up on the sideboards of the stage in the shape of a child’s face but as we arrived and the band were rehearsing, after arriving in Munich, we realised that the show was essentially the same track listing as the 1995 MTV music awards plus “Earth Song”. The rumours had come through from the previous show that “Earth Song” was to be an extremely eventful performance with some kind of “special bridge” prop.
Many great (as well as pretty poor!) performers entertained over the two shows but Michael’s songs performed were:
• “Don’t stop til you get enough” (introduction)
• Michael Jackson Medley, including, “The way you make me feel”, “Jam”, “Beat it”, “Scream” and “Black or White” (featuring Slash)
• “Billie Jean”
• “Earth Song”
• “You are not alone”
I have to say that in my opinion this was Michael Jackson’s last “proper” concert. It was the last time he performed in his full glory in full control and like the old times. I include in this all later performances and MSG 2001, American Bandstand and “Dangerous”, “What more can I give” and “Man in the mirror” in Washington etc. Michael Jackson was apparantly ill (which he had spoken about) and he also had a totally different physical look, which totally changed him as a performer. These 2 shows were 2 classics and, in my opinion, the last shows where he was still the top of his game, clearly. Amazing!
It’s very interesting to compare the 2 shows and there are a lot of differences between the two. The first one over in Korea went exactly as planned… nearly! His dancing was first class. An interesting point came during the start of his classic “Billie Jean”. After his projected shadow sheet falls to the ground, Michael was to grab it and through it to the floor, walk over it and proceed with the classic rendition of “Billie Jean”. It looks like he forgot that the sheet was to fall to the floor as it usually (as at the MTV Video Music awards in 1995 and all previous tours and awards shows) is pulled upwards. The sheet fell down on his head and we were left with the interesting image of Michael standing on the stage with a massive sheet on top of him! He quickly pulls it off and throws it to the floor and proceeds to wow his audience.
It is interesting to note that if you look at the dress rehearsal of the same show, which looked pretty comprehensive, i.e., Michael was dancing flat out, in full costumes and used all the props etc BUT Michael DOES NOT rehearse with the sheet for some reason. He is already dancing in front of the sheet for “Billie Jean” and you can clearly see his crew removing it. This is interesting as he should have rehearsed this as it may have prevented the problem on stage. I presume that the technical people had not set it to drop or it was too much grief to reset it. Either way, this was a mistake.
Now, with regards to the rest of this show, it really was a classic perfect Michael Jackson performance! No technical issues, Brad Buxer was on form and the Band was great. The concert a couple of days later was not to turn out the same! There are a lot of small issues and a couple of major ones which affected Michael as well as the show. Let’s take a look at a few of them in the Munich show in comparison the Korea show:
1) The screen behind Michael in the centre of the stage in Munich was malfunctioning and not working. It worked fine in Seoul and it really added to the visual element of the performance
2) The band made a big “boo boo” in almost the first few bars of the performance and you can see clearly that Michael was not happy about it! Michael walks on to “Don’t stop til you get enough”, he then spins and blasts his hands out: Bam! The band give a classic simultaneous “hit” to emphasise the moment. In Michael Jackson’s live songs the hit is almost always on the “one” (one, two, three, four and (HIT!). If you take a listen, the band messes up the hit completely. Some come in on the four… in fact it is only Michael himself and Bass guitar player who do it correctly on this occasion. It sounds like the drummer (the amazing Ricky Lawson came in too early and the rest of the band (except for the bass and Michael) went with him. Take a listen to the Korean version for the correct way and the then have a listen to the Munich version.
3) Michael catches the dropping sheet perfectly in this concert (as compared to letting it fall on his head in Korea)
4) A few minor changes to the conventional “Billie Jean” also, added white band to the arm, a total change to “Dangerous”. The lead in is totally slowed down (probably a bit too slow I think) and the choreography (backing dancers) for the chorus has been changed with added “arm rolls”: Very impressive addition.
5) Over in the previous concert in Korea the dancer who puts his arm across Michael and gets a blow to the head, during “Dangerous” comes in too late so that the sound effects are made redundant. For the Munich show it looks pretty probable that Michael insisted that Lavelle Smith (lead choreographer) do the job himself, replacing the previous dancer, on the next show. He didn’t miss the beat.
6) Earth Song: The crane collapsed and Michael was dropped 50 feet or more to the floor. The force of the drop was obvious as it actually bounced the whole contraption that he was on at least twice. The amount of force needed to do this is a lot considering the probable weight of it! Michael was forced to climb out and up onto the stage and proceed with the show. It’s also interesting to see the stage manager jump a clean 12 feet at least down to try and get him.
7) After the malfunctioning stage mechanism it seemed impossible to reset in time so instead of resetting and lowering the cranes, they remained in place whilst Michael performed “You are not alone”. It also looks like Michael was unable to change into his previous Blue, “Jam” like Jacket and performed in the same shirt he used in the previous song. More below!
Michael was rushed to the hospital after the show and it was interesting to see close up what happened in between “Earth Song” and “You are not alone” close up. After Michael walked off the stage, I watched him walk to a plastic type white chair (kind of like a garden chair) and just drop down. He just sat there like in a daze. I saw nobody approach him at all. He looked pretty smashed…although when on location live we did not know there was an issue as it kind of looked like part of the show. We only found out on the way back to the hotel that Michael was rushed to the hospital. This was one of those real major issues. It is fortunate that the crane came down square because he could have easily fallen off the contraption…. He was not strapped in or secure. I doubt that he would have used any safety rope etc if one was available (it looks like on the some shows in the early part of the History tour Michael did have a strap for his arm for the crane, used for “Earth Song” but never used it…it was removed in later shows).
Nevertheless, the concert series were amazing and Michael was on the top of his form.
I must mention Brad Buxer, who was the musical director of the show. The extended interval between “Earth Song” and “You are not alone” gave Buxer the chance to play a beautiful rendition of “Stranger in Moscow”. This was actually an amazing rendition! You might be able to catch it on some televised versions in the background or on amateur recording of the event.
Also, take a listen to the difference between the outro of “Earth song” in Korea and the outro in Munich. In the first concerts, Brad cuts the piano flourishes but, maybe he has a few hours practice between the shows because he elongated them PERFECTLY for the Munich rendition! A very good job! Same with Ricky Lawson, the drummer, whom, when live, I thought his drum sounds were pre-recorded or from a sampler but after later re watching the televised version realised that he was playing live, along with slash… an amazing band for Michael, who were on form (despite there little mistake at the beginning!)
So, there are a few of my recollections from amazing show and in my opinion, the last of that era.
By Anthony King ©