June 25, 2010
@The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
Better Than: Listening to my coworker alternate between a bad British accent and a creepy falsetto while singing "The Girl is Mine" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
I remember in high school there was a boy no one understood, save for a couple band kids. Let's call him Adam. Except for a single white glove, he wore all black, from his hat to his polished shoes. He was pale; no doubt from spending hours on a slippery kitchen floor perfecting his moonwalk. At the end of one school year, our teacher humored him and cleared the table of all manuals and practice workbooks, giving Adam a stage to demonstrate his best Michael Jackson impersonation. I had never met anyone quite like him.
Then came Friday night. Sutter Street in San Francisco was deserted. I was early for the Michael Jackson tribute concert, Moonwalker, at The Regency Ballroom. An inconspicuous black car pulled up beside me. And then a head popped out, followed by an entire bedazzled, silver and sequined bodysuit. The entrance of a superstar. Or someone who idolizes a superstar. I knew then that the Adam of my teenage years was about to come out in droves.
"You're early. Come back in an hour," the bouncer said. He paused, trying to conjure up some Michael magic that would take the edge off the inconvenience. "But when you come back, you have to moonwalk to get in." That was more like it.
At 10 p.m., he had luckily, for me, reneged that stipulation. I took but two steps into the venue when the promise of a night worthy of MJ was handed to me in the form of a silver glove -- even if that glove's backside was a shameless plug for Stoli vodka. A few more feet in, and I was at the heart of a costume party of epic, drunken proportions. To my right was Michael Jackson in a red leather "Beat It" jacket and tightly curled black wig. To my left was Michael Jackson with a ponytail and white suit. By the open bar was a woman who gladly readjusted her hair so I could see "Thriller" stitched on the back of her jacket. In the backdrop of all this was a giant projector screen rehashing Jackson 5 music videos, and neon-colored beams of light bouncing off The Regency's crystal chandeliers.
At first the room was only a third full with overeager fans. By the time the headlining Michael Jackson San Francisco tribute band Foreverland arrived, the room had reached a perfect level of crowdedness. Not so empty that it would be a disservice to the one-year anniversary of Michael's death. But not so full that you couldn't move comfortably from one side of the room to the other, or make way for the mini Thriller flash mob during intermission.
After opening with "Jam," Foreverland's four singers (let's call them the Foreverland 4 from here on out) launched into a foot-tapping, pitch-perfect rendition of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" with full band backing from the other 10 members in the horns and rhythm sections. The only thing missing from the stellar number was confused scenery whizzing by in the background á la the seminal music video for this song. The green screen evidently just came out on the scene, and the director seemed to be preoccupied with figuring out all the random shit he could do with it, leaving Michael to his own devices to dance in place as chaos exploded behind him.
Together, the Foreverland 4 sounded eerily like Michael. But when singled out, they came nowhere close. A singer dropped the mic; something that Michael, a seamless mover, would never be caught doing in a million years. There was no moonwalking or impressive dancing. There was, however, crotch grabbing. Perhaps too much of it; even when Michael did it, it was weird. But none of these flaws mattered. In fact, they were welcome. The night was a tribute to his greatness, and the fact that his greatness couldn't be easily mimicked was in itself a tribute. No one was trying to duplicate or replace Michael. They just did the best they could, and their best was completely satisfactory. I was too touched by the show of support and the amount of energy in the room to care much about the technical details anyway.
Foreverland thanked Michael profusely in between numbers. They called for a moment of silence, and a moment was all it lasted. This was a celebration after all. Aside from the one man passed out at a table from a little too much MJ fun (that or one too many from the bottle service going for the low, low price of $600), no one could control their feet. Even if their feet did meet mild resistance from the stick of alcohol coating the floor.
Michael's devoted fans began trickling out before Foreverland played its last couple songs. Only a handful of people stuck around to hear the ultimate feel-good song, "Blame It On the Boogie," and blame it on the boogie you should. Four hours of being Michael Jackson started to take its toll. A lot of things start to make sense when you imagine being Michael Jackson for a lifetime.
In retrospect: "Human Nature" might be the coolest slow dance song. Sure beats Enrique Iglesias's "Hero" -- my junior high school's selection.
Makes You Go "Hmmm" Moment: At first I marveled at how Foreverland has no black singers. Then I wondered whether they had just taken their role way too seriously, and if I'd see them with cleft chins the next time around.