The Jacksons returned to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem on June 28 and showed the crowd that they still have that magic talent that made them famous more than 40 years ago.
Their “Unity” tour was the first tour that the group embarked on since their 1984 “Victory” tour. They last performed on stage in September 2001 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where they reunited with their brother Michael as part of the 30th anniversary of his solo career. Since Michael passed away, the remaining brothers (minus Randy) have regrouped and have been playing to frenzied crowds across the country since their tour began.
They first played the Apollo in August 1967 during Amateur Night, and won victoriously. They returned in May 1968 opening for R&B singer Etta James and again in 1969 opening for Joe Simon, and later that year for Sly & the Family Stone. Hence, The Jacksons’ return to the historic theater was a “coming home” of sorts to the place that helped propel them to future fame.
Excited fans waiting to go inside for the show were dressed in Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson outfits and t-shirts. Many of them were also carrying old Jackson 5 and Jacksons albums and other related memorabilia. A large number of fans broke out in song and dance routines of famous Jacksons hits. Harlem was indeed ready for The Jacksons.
During the meet and greet held before the concert, The Jacksons graciously chatted with fans and took photos with them as well.
When it was showtime, the lights darkened and the screams from the crowd were deafening. The brothers appeared on stage in frozen stances before they tore into one of their signature songs, “Can You Feel It,” as the crowd leapt to its feet.
The concert was a classic combination of popular hits, album tracks, a great solo set by Jermaine and a moving tribute to Michael. Lead vocals were done predominantly by Jermaine and Jackie, although Marlon and Tito got their chances to shine as well. Marlon, for instance, did an excellent rendition of Michael’s classic “Rock With You.”
True and loyal fans of the Jacksons were familiar with tunes such as the poignant “Man of War” and the beautiful heartfelt ballad “Heaven Knows I Love You Girl” (Tito’s baritone solo vocal spot in this song drew shrieks from the women), two album tracks from the Jacksons 1977 album Goin’ Places. They also surprised fans with songs that they have not performed in years such as “Looking Through the Windows,” “Show You The Way to Go,” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are.”
One of the most moving parts of the show was when Jermaine sang Michael’s song “Gone Too Soon” during which a screen showcased various photos of Michael during his life and career. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.
Their classic medley of early Motown hits “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “The Love You Save” really got the crowd doing. They even performed their 1975 hit “All I Do Is Think of You,” which truly showcased the brothers’ impassioned vocals.
When the group performed “I’ll Be There,” the entire audience waved their hands in solidarity from side to side, epitomizing what the “Unity” tour was all about.
Although the brothers are older, they can still move and dance around the stage in that classic Jacksons formation. The trademark choreography was on point, Tito’s and Jermaine’s musicianship was fabulous, and the group’s vocals were still as strong as ever.
Marlon stated how great it was to be back at the Apollo, reminiscing on how they played there many years ago. All of the brothers chatted about their humble beginnings and how they practiced and rehearsed. Their biographical tune “We’re Here to Entertain You” played as old photos and video footage of the group flashed on a video screen.
The group performed Michael’s great dance track “Can’t Let Her Get Away” from his 1991 Dangerous album to spotlight the great musicians and backup singers who were part of the tour. It also gave Marlon a chance to spotlight his wonderful dancing skills.
Their last three closing numbers were Michael’s classics “Wanna Be Starting Something” and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” and their smash “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.” The audience was on its feet nearly the entire evening, yelling out the brothers’ names and screaming “I love you” to them all. It was an indeed an incredible, unforgettable evening.
Many have wondered if the group was going to be able to pull off the tour without Michael. Even though Michael’s absence left an obvious void, the brothers nevertheless proved that they are still capable of putting on a dynamite show together, winning over the naysayers, skeptics and doubters.
Fans leaving the Apollo were at an all-time high of excitement, giving praises to the brothers for doing a terrific show. Harlem enthusiastically welcomed back The Jacksons with open arms. It was the group’s “destiny” to “triumph” and have “victory” on the world-famous Apollo stage, just as it was back in the late sixties when they were just starting out.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, actor, writer, filmmaker, dancer, soul music historian and Soul Train historian.