Crazy Times For an MJ Tribute Band

7 Jul

Who's Bad Michael Jackson Tribute BandLast week, a day or so after the news broke that Michael Jackson had died, my friend Nick, a super-burning drummer who went to UMiami with me (I know – a super-burning drummer who went to school with me? Shocker!), started posting some strange Facebook updates.  “Out front of the club – press is EVERYWHERE.  Shit is nuts!” Or, “Sold out two more nights at the 9:30 club, this is crazy.” In addition to that, there would be, like, 25 comments on each post, saying things like “That’s awesome man – you guys are gonna be rocking it from here on out.”

At first, it didn’t register – I knew he had played drums in the metal band Morrison Poe, and thought that maybe MoPoe had gotten signed, or something, but it seemed too …sudden?  And then I finally figured it out – somehow or another, Michael Jackson had to be involved.

A little bit of googling later, I found out that Nick now plays drums for Who’s Bad, billed as the “Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.”  They certainly look ultimate – I’m guessing that if Nick is playing drums, they at least sound pretty damn good, too.  I played in a cover band with him down in Miami, and it was a flippin blast – the dude kills.

The group is clearly made up of a bunch of pros – Nick’s presence on the drums, as well as the quality the music on their demo reel shows off a universally high level of musicianship. Naturally, though, the real heart of any Michael Jackson tribute band is, of course, the “Michael.”  In this case, singer and MJ-impersonator Joseph Bell does the honors, and really looks, sounds, and dances the part.  He’s got the entire act, spanning Michael’s whole career, down to a science.  In a recent interview with the Baltimore Sun, band manager/saxophonist Vamsi Tadepalli says that they’ve been through four Michael Jacksons, and that Joseph is their most recent, and probably the longest-standing, since the group’s inception in 2003.

It’s fascinating how this sort of thing works – there are certainly tribute bands around these parts, as well (though most of them are chick-fronted 70’s hard rock bands a la AC/DShe and Zeparella), but I’ve never been around for the death of a “tributed individual,” and certainly not one as big as Michael Jackson (though I suppose that goes without saying). Michael hadn’t performed in years, so really, Who’s Bad was as good as anyone was gonna get anyway, but now that he’s gone, it’s pretty intense for them that they’re really the only Michael Jackson experience left.

Joseph Bell Whos Bad Michael Jackson Tribute

Joseph Bell is Michael.

There is another side to it – a certain shame associated with tribute bands, with being a part of a musical endeavor that has to literally ape the entire output, both musical and extra-musical, of another artist, in order to get a gig. And when watching the (pre-MJ’s death) promotional video from Who’s Bad, it’s tough not to get a little bit of that.  Something circusy, and vaguely creepy, when the lead singer puts on an afro wig and sings “I Want You Back” like young Michael did with the Jackson five.

But I dunno. At their heart, these are guys (and one guy in particular) who love Michael Jackson, and they perform his music with joy and love, sharing it with as many people as they can.  And that’s pretty damn cool.  I mean, watch this short clip of a live show in Nashville for a while back – it’s hard not to be won over by the dorky charm and enthusiasm on display.  What’s more, if we’re being honest, there was something creepy about when Michael sang “I Want You Back,” so really, any tribute band kind of has a duty to recreate that creepiness.  Okay, that was a stretch, but you know what I’m saying.

Michael Jackson’s music is just so awesome, so much fun, that I’ll bet that five minutes (and a couple of drinks) into a Who’s Bad set, any qualms a person may have with look- and sound-aliking go straight out the window.  The King may be dead, but the party continues – there are so many enormously talented musicians out there who love Michael that his music will doubtless be performed for decades to come. And that can only be a good thing.

I have a feeling that Who’s Bad is gonna have a pretty awesome year.


Who, indeed?


One Response to “Crazy Times For an MJ Tribute Band”

  1. Natalya Irigoyen June 1, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    hi,beautiful pants in your post,I love thatgreatpants,I need to find one for me,bill

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