Concert Review: The Jacksons at the Apollo

The Jacksons at the Apollo - H 2012
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The Jacksons at the Apollo - H 2012

The Jackson 4 soldier on without their legendary brother in this nostalgic reunion tour, their first since 1984.

The surviving members of The Jackson 5 return to the Apollo Theater, a venue they first played on Amateur Night in 1969.

There thankfully was no hologram in attendance, but the spirit of Michael Jackson was otherwise very much evident at the Jacksons’ show at the Apollo Theater, part of their Unity Tour. Performing at the venue in which they first appeared at an Amateur Night in 1969, the four surviving members of the original Jackson 5 delivered a slick, well-paced evening that energized the sold-out crowd. It was a largely celebratory homecoming, even if the absence of the group’s most valuable member was sorely felt.

Featuring Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon -- Randy, a later member of the group, apparently declined to participate -- the fast-paced 90-minute show marks the first tour by the brothers since their 1984 Victory jaunt with Michael, a decidedly more extravagant outing.

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The emphasis here was necessarily on the music rather than spectacle, though the brothers haven’t lost their savvy showbiz slickness. Opening the show frozen in dramatic poses surrounded by stage fog, they proceeded to whip off their sunglasses with a ferocity even David Caruso would envy.

The 26-song set featured a well-chosen blend of their major hits, deep album cuts and just enough of Michael’s solo smashes (“Rock With You” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” among others) to feel reverential rather than exploitative. Jermaine, who handled many of the lead vocals, was afforded a mini solo-set featuring his hits “Dynamite,” “Let’s Get Serious” and “Do What You Do.” He also paid tribute to his late brother with an emotional “Gone Too Soon,” accompanied by the inevitable video montage featuring Michael.

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Although it’s safe to say that the siblings can’t quite move the way that they used to, they give it their all. They delivered judicious doses of their synchronized dance moves, including some instantly recognizable vintage Jackson 5 routines. “Like we did it on The Ed Sullivan Show,” promised Marlon, whose frequent solo gyrations inspired crowd shout-outs of “Go, Marlon!”

The evening is divided into distinct sections, including a lengthy segment featuring the performers – who range in age from 55 to 61 -- sitting on stools while reminiscing about the past and delivering such slow jams as “Looking Through the Window” and “Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl” that showcased their vocal harmonies. Another featured such Jackson 5 hits as “I Want You Back,” ABC,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I’ll Be There,” albeit in frustratingly abridged versions.

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Accompanied by a tight, five-piece band and three backup singers, the brothers accentuated the funk, especially in a show-closing, extended version of “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).”

The historic venue added a further emotionalism to the proceedings. “The Apollo was pretty much our birthplace,” said Marlon, who reminisced about standing in the wings with Michael as they watched such legendary performers as James Brown and Jackie Wilson. The group’s return to the stage on which they performed more than four decades ago seemed fitting, even if the circumstances were inevitably poignant.

The Unity Tour continues through next month, including a July 22 stop at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Set list:

Can You Feel It
Blame It on the Boogie
Wanna Be Where You Are
Rock With You
Show Me the Way to Go
Lovely One
Here to Entertain You
Good Times
Looking Through the Window
Time Waits for No One
Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl
Push Me Away
Man of War
Gone Too Soon
I Want You Back
The Love You Save
Never Can Say Goodbye
All I Do Is Think of You
I’ll Be There
Let’s Get Serious
Do What You Do
Can’t Let Her Get Away
This Place Hotel
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)