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The Jacksons show the way at second Detroit Music Weekend
The Jacksons call Detroit their “second home,” but the Motown siblings’ return for this year’s Detroit Music Weekend was a mix of sweet and sour -- though ultimately joyous.
First was the botched street naming -- a city ordinance requires it be named after an individual, but Michael Jackson Ave. was nixed by the group -- that was resolved with the band receiving keys to the city on Friday, June 15. And then its headlining show on Saturday, June 16, closing out an 11-hour-plus day of free performances, was mired by technical difficulties -- specifically a malfunctioning video screen that delayed the start of the Jacksons’ show for nearly an hour.
The bygones came quickly, however -- nearly as soon as the quartet and its seven-piece backing band hit the stage to the martial strains of “Can You Feel It.” Despite the lack of video, insufficient spotlighting and a too-hot sound mix, the Jacksons had the several thousand fans in front of them -- and on the fire escapes of The Ashley apartment building next door -- dancing for the duration of their 65-minute set, reliving the group’s past glory as the four brothers, in their shimmering dark outfits, recreated the slick choreography and smooth harmonies that have been the group’s trademark since its first chart-topping Motown singles nearly 50 years ago.
The tardiness did have one unexpected advantage; The troupe’s six-song medley of Jackson 5 hits wound up coinciding with a fireworks display from a nearby wedding, its grand finale hitting right as the Jacksons took a dramatic pause during “I’ll Be There.”
With Jermaine and Marlon taking most of the lead vocals, the group nodded to their late brother Michael with a selection of his solo hits (“Rock With You,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Gone Too Soon”) and reprised Jacksons group favorites such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Lovely One” and less-celebrated tunes like “Enjoy Yourself” and “Show You The Way To Go.” The show finished with a long, vampy treatment of “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground),” with each of the 60-something Jacksons busting a move and plenty of call-and-response with the crowd.
It won’t necessarily be the last we see of the Jacksons in these parts; The group and its management promised on Friday that the street naming situation has been “rectified” and that they’d return during 2019 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of its first Motown releases. But its show on Saturday made sure that the group’s Detroit Music Weekend adventure ended on a high, if late, note.
Other notable moments from the second Detroit Music Weekend included...
• Grand Funk Railroad co-founder Mark Farner faced a challenge of his own when wind blew a cascade of water left over from Saturday’s rains off the stage roof and onto the stage shorting out his amplifier during “Bad Time.” Declaring that “Hey, it all started without a guitar,” Farner soldiered through Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” and Soul Brothers Six’s “Some Kind Of Wonderful” before members of Detroit’s Gasoline Gypsies set up one of their amps to allow him to finish with “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home” and a cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio.”
• Noting that “this takes a lot of guts for a white boy,” Jeff Daniels closed his set of Michigan-related songs -- including blues odes to the Detroit Tigers and Lions -- with a solo acoustic rendition of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” adding that “somewhere Marvin Gaye’s looking down saying, “What the hell’s that white boy doing to my song...”
• Daniels was backed during much of his show by his son’s Ben Daniels Band, which preceded him with its own set of interesting covers, including Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson” and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
• The eclectic nature of Detroit Music Weekend was best illustrated by a dizzying five-act exchange in the Lear/Ford stage tent. Carl B. Phillips’ roof-raising gospel performance gave way to the Motor City Youth Theatre, which tossed it to a hard funk workout by Steffanie Christi’an and Nadir. Puppetart followed that before Mundo Metal played its brand of experimental, avant music.
• Back at the main stage the Gasoline Gypsies and the Craig Brown Band both delivered high-energy sets of Southern-flavored rock, with the former featuring songs from its upcoming new album. The Will Sessions Band, however, was cut short just as it was getting into its characteristically hot groove.
• Detroit Music Weekend’s Friday night gala moved from the Detroit Opera House into a tent beside the Music Hall Center, hosting not only the Jacksons’ city key presentation but also a fashion show and a Jacksons tribute concert. The 20-song show covered the entire family’s repertoire -- even solo hits by Jermaine and Rebbie Jackson, culminating with a long jam on Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Top ‘Til You Get Enough” with the full cast and a guest appearance by keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, a Detroit native who’s worked with the Jacksons since the late 70s.
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