Two of the most iconic groups in music history, the Jacksons and the Commodores, brought loads of nostalgia to fans Sunday night, December 13, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark.
This is the first time the groups have performed together on the same stage since the early ‘70s, when the Commodores used to open concert tours for the Jackson 5, so their coming together was definitely a reunion of sorts.
The Commodores hit the stage first. Lead singer J.D. Nicholas held his own, singing vocals originally performed by former Commodores lead singer Lionel Richie on tracks such as “Easy,” “Three Times a Lady,” and “Zoom.” His poignant rendition of the 1985 hit “Night Shift,” which was originally a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, was extended to honor other late singers such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Original members Walter “Clyde” Orange and William King helped to get the audience on its feet on uptempo tracks such as “Brick House” and “Fancy Dancer.”
Then it was time for the Jacksons. Before they came out on stage, a film showing a Jackson 5 Motown record playing on a turntable segued into a series of old photos, TV and concert clips of the group. The curtain rose and the Jacksons stood frozen on the stage amidst the audience’s deafening screams and cheers, the tore into their opening number “Can You Feel It?”
Only Tito, Marlon, and Jackie Jackson performed; Jermaine was not with the group for some reason and there was no explanation offered as to why he was a no-show. Nevertheless, Marlon gave shout outs to him, Randy and, of course, their late brother Michael.
As usual, the Jacksons were in top form vocally and with their great footwork as they stirred the audience through a number of their hits, including “Blame it On the Boogie,” “Enjoy Yourself,” “Lovely One,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” Marlon told the audience, “We’re going to do the old songs the old fashioned way like we did on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969,” and the group launched into a medley of their early Motown hits.
A video of a silhouetted woman dancing with a big afro—complete with disco strobe lights— showed behind the group when they performed “Dancing Machine.” In tribute to Michael, video images of Michael with the group played on a screen as the group performed.
A brief documentary on the group played midway in the show with touching reflections from the Jacksons’ parents Joseph and Katherine Jackson as well as from Berry Gordy.
The group also delivered Michael’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Rock With You,” and “Can’t Let Her Get Away.” On the latter song, Marlon introduced the background singers and band members, all of whom showed off their great musicianship.
The group brought down the house with their last number, “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground.”
As with the Jacksons’ concerts from years ago, fans rushed the front of the stage, reaching out to touch the group’s hands. The brothers greatly obliged their fans.
After over 43 years of performing, the Jacksons have not lost the magic that made their fans excited about them in the first place.
Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.