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Newsweek Review of the Opening Night of The Victory Tour July 16, 1984

[Read what NEWSWEEK - July 16, 1984 - had to say about the legendary Victory Tour's opening night in Kansas City and more. NEWSWEEK is one of the most important US magazines]:

After months of anticipation, Michael Jackson's troubled and controversial tour has finally kicked off in Kansas City and the enigmatic star is living up to his reputation as the reluctant Pied Piper of pop.

It was Michael Jackson's kind of crowd - mothers with toddlers, teenagers with parents, blacks and whites together, low-key, sober and friendly. They had paid dearly for tickets and now here they were, filing quietly into Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium last Friday night for the debut of the most widely touted and hotly debated tour of the recent year - Michael Jackson's "Victory" tour, his last with his brothers, the Jacksons.
As the sun set and the lights dimmed, excitement mounted. When the Jacksons finally appeared, rising on a waffle grid of blinding lights, Michael bestowed a benediction with a job of his trademark sequined glove, and the crowd of 45'000 roared its appreciation. Racing at full throttle, the band launched into "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'?" - and Michael leaped into nearly two hours of the griddy showmanship that has made him perhaps the most popular musician in the world today.

After months of confusion, controversy and sporadic outbursts of popular histeria, often fanned by frenzied media coverage, the Jackson's tour - billed as the most lucrative rock and roll roadshow ever mounted - was officially under way. The tour is currently scheduled to visit some 13 cities, with a few more sites yet to be announced. Most of the dates - perhaps nearly 50 in all - will be in large outdoor arenas like Arrowhead. The tour is expected to gross around $ 50 million - though estimates vary wildly - perhaps edging records set by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who.

"Even my mom talks about the concert," laughs Bob Case of Seattle radio station KUBE. "This is going to be THE event of the next 10 years. It's like the Super Bowl - you don't care about who's playing, you just want to see it."

In many cities, the Jacksons concert will climax months of feverish anticipation - and, in some cases, increasingly vocal complaints. Everyone had assumed that the tour would present complicated logistical and security problems - particularly since most preparations had been marred by byzantine, behind-the-scenes tourmoil. Before last Thursday, when Michael announced new ticketing plans and the donation of his profits to charity, reports of greed and incompetence had outraged some fans and perhaps contributed to sluggish ticket sales in Dallas. But other fans loyally demonstrated their enthusiasm.

In Kansas City, the hoopla began in June. When newspapers containing the first official ticket order forms rolled off the presses in early hours of June 19, fans were lined up to buy them.

"It's rediculous!" said disc jockey Roy Leonard, who has been following the Jackson craze for the Chicago radio station WGN: "People were stealing papers off other people's front lawns."
As every newspaper thief soon learned, Michael's show was no easy market. Anxious fans were instructed to mail a money order [four tickets for $ 120.--], with no guarantee of a specific date, a good seat - or even any tickets at all. Despite the stiff price and chancey prospects [tickets were to be randomly distributed], customers in Kansas City jammed into post offices to buy money orders - 15'000 in one day.

Elsewhere in the country, civic leaders and local media petitioned Michael to make their city one of his stops. In staid Boston, the local tabloid sponsored a coupon drive that garnered over 30'000 signatures, and a radio station organized a rally of 5'000 fans, who milled about on Boston Common beneath an outsize billboard of Michael - a 25-year-old Wizard of Funk looking uncomfortably like Big Brother.

In Jackson's native Gary, Ind., some 30'000 citizens petitioned Michael, at the behest of Mayor Richard Hatcher, to come home - at least for a ceremony. Even the president got into the act: when Jackson visited the White House last May, Ronald Reagan personally urged him to perform in Washington. Not to be outdone, presidential candidate Jesse Jackson made a point of meeting him last Saturday in Kansas City.

Such is the magic of America's newest Pied Piper of pop. The most explosive phenomenon since the Beatles, he defies easy categorization. Like James Brown, he's the pre-eminent black pop musician of his era, a master of soulful singing and impassioned stagecraft, able to dance with a furious precision that is innovative yet steeped in black tradition. Like the early Beatles, he's a master of upbeat musical confections, sometimes created in collaboration with the most popular ex-Beatle of all, Paul McCartney. Like Pat Boone, the prototype of rock teen idols, he's cute, wholesome and pious. He's a virtuoso of the modern recording studio; but like Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, he aspires to be an old-fashioned entertainer.

He's a stunning live perfomer, but also a notorious recluse with an otherworldly mystique - imagine Howard Hughes and E.T. rolled into one. Like Judy Garland or Johnny Ray, his appeal is freakish - he's utterly unlike you and me, with a streak of wildfire that unpredictably lights his eyes.

In Kansas City, first stop on the tour that goes to Texas Stadium outside Dallas [July 13-15], the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. [Aug. 2-5], and Madison Square Garden in New York [Aug. 2-5], Michael presided over one of the gaudiest, most grandiose spectacles in the history of pop music.
The show opened with a curious costume pageant involving large, lumbering pastel-colored Muppet-like monsters, a magically glowing sword, and a visored knight in shining armor - King Arthur meets Luke Skywalker. [The knight was Michael, of course]. There were lasers, strobe lights and smoke bombs. There was a spidery mechanical gizmo that nearly ate Michael. [He escaped]. There was magic, illusion, and fireworks - flares and explosives onstage during the show and in the sky overhead to end it.

But is was the music, after all, that had brought the crowd here - and the smartly paced set included a little bit of everything. There was something old: the classic popcorn funk of "I Want You Back", the Jackson 5's first Motown hit 15 years ago. There was something new: four songs from "Thriller", Michael's blockbuster solo album. Amid all the razzle-dazzle, there was even someting blue: an earthy, extended gospel coda to "I'll Be There" sung by Michael a cappella - a touching reminder of his roots in the soul stylings of Jackie Wilson. Michael moved effortlessly from ballads [a luminous "Human Nature"] and rock [a ferocious "Beat It"] to skittish funk [the salsa-spiced "Lovely One"]. On "Working Day And Night" the group flashed some whirling dervish choreograhpy, while by the show's finale, "Shake Your Body", Michael had become a freelance blur of spins, stops and body-popping turns.

There was no material from the new Jacksons album, "Victory", - perhaps because, disappointingly, it is such a spotty effort. Jermaine Jackson, a solo recording artist in his own right, did perform three of his songs; but he was in poor voice, and often seemed off pitch.
From start to close, there is only one real star of this show; it may be billed as a Jackson's tour, but it's Michael's all the way. When he sings a lachrymose ballad like "She's Out Of My Life", he makes sentimental tripe seem like honest passion. And when he performs "Billie Jean", he seems to glide weightlessly. He dances with the breathtaking verve of his predecessor James Brown, the beguiling wispiness of Diana Ross, the ungainly pathos of Charlie Chaplin, the edgy joy of a man startled to be alive. The crowd gasps and screams, savoring not a fussy high-tech stage but the grace and beauty of a brilliant entertainer.

No wonder the crowd in Kansas City screams in gratitude simply to behold him, watch him move, bask in his bodily presence: people want proof that he's not simply a conjurer's trick - all pixie dust and phosphor traces. Yes, Virginia, there is a Michael Jackson. He's a wonderful singer, a geat dancer, a mesmerizing performer!

He's there on stage now, gliding across his Star Wars stage set, going through his moves. As Michael would say, "It's magic." In a few minutes, he will be whisked back to safety and the cocoon he feels comfortable in, waiting to be airlifted to the next stop on his most peculiar of rock and roll odysseys. Maybe your town will be next.

[Jim Miller in Kansas City for NEWSWEEK]


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