Music Review: King Of Pop, Auditorium At Echo Arena, Liverpool

Image Source: What's On Live
Image Source: What’s On Live

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Music Show
Genre: Pop
Date: July 21 2018
Location: Auditorium At Echo Arena, Liverpool, England

Michael Jackson was one of the most famous celebrities of the past 50 years. An ultra-talented singer who was before his time as it pertains to his extravagant use of music videos and a combination of having a reserved demeanour with a larger-than-life personality, MJ had two separate careers which would elevate him into all-great territory. His untimely death in 2009 came as he was preparing a major comeback tour consisting of 50 dates in London’s O2 Arena, and nine years on from this tragic event (which really did bring the world to a standstill at the time), Jackson is still sorely missed, and his place amongst the greatest ever remains, and regardless of how music evolves in the years to come, he will always be on the Mount Rushmore of pop music.

During his life, Jackson met a young man named Navi, who has made his name as the world’s leading MJ tribute act. In fact, Navi even performed at Michael’s birthday parties in New York and Los Angeles. Since MJ left us, Navi has provided the most authentic Jackson experience possible from a live performance standpoint, and he has just brought his current King Of Pop show to Liverpool, itself a hot-spot for pop music history.

With the assistance of video footage demonstrating high points from Michael’s career, as well as media coverage of his own rising fame and interactions with Michael down the years, Navi had the crowd on their feet with renditions of such classics as Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Bad, Thriller and Man In The Mirror. The backing dancers were very talented, as were the backing band who were spot-on in bringing the music itself to life. There were several costume changes (coat changes would be more accurate), and Navi provided plenty of audience interaction, such as entering the audience for a number of songs to greet attendees, and speaking to those on the first few rows between songs (which may have lasted a little too long at times, to be fair).

Also on hand for the show was Jennifer Batten, a super-talented guitarist who was described as being Michael’s “right-hand woman” for more than a decade, and who performed alongside MJ for three world tours and a famous Super Bowl performance from 1993. Jennifer was having a great time performing to the Liverpool crowd, and her guitar renditions brought something different to a number of famous MJ hits. I also have to mention the changing lighting between songs, the mini-montage of Jackson Five songs which kicked off the second half, and the use of additional props and helpers (such as the dancers masquerading as monsters during Thriller). Navi’s singing was of a high standard, and it was easy to tint your eyes and envision that it was the real Jackson performing before you.

There were a few flaws, some of which were out of the production’s hands. That would be the behaviour of many audience members, who seemed to forget that Navi was performing to a room of more than 1,000, as opposed to solely them. It’s always good to see the crowd up dancing and enjoying themselves, but there were times when certain attendees were the only people standing (during quieter songs, no less), yet they still didn’t consider those behind them. Add to that frequent seat-hopping between a number of people, those who were blocking the aisleways (and were pulled up by staff members for doing so), and an unfortunately large amount of heckling by those who wanted to make the show all about them, and it made for a first half that was harder to take in because of those around us, so much so that we voluntarily switched seats for the second half, and we enjoyed the remainder of the show more as a result.

As for the production itself, there were a couple of songs I was expecting to hear but which weren’t covered, such as Earth Song, Ben and You Are Not Alone, hence why the audience interaction could have been shortened. Speaking of which, the final section lasted a little too long: it was a good thing to pay tribute to the backing performers who made King Of Pop a reality, but around thirty minutes elapsed between Navi asking fans if they wanted one more song (as in the encore) and the show itself ending, which seemed to diffuse the crowd a bit. And I was a little surprised that video footage acknowledged the criminal charges that Jackson faced (for which he was acquitted). While the intention was clearly to show how Michael bounced back from those setbacks, and they do form an important part of his story, I feel that for a feel-good tribute show, it would have been better to have ignored this; when Michael’s fans conjure up their memories of MJ, they think of and want to celebrate the positives, while only wishing to remember the negatives when it’s absolutely necessary.

Overall, though, I definitely enjoyed King Of Pop, and I would suggest that any longtime Michael Jackson fans should check out this tribute to one of the best ever. With some minor tweaks to the production, though (and in front of a crowd which will hopefully more clearly notice the line between demonstrating enjoyment and being an annoyance), this could become an essential show which everybody should see. As it is, though, I still had a fun night, and if MJ is one of your pop music heroes, chances are that you’ll come away feeling the same way.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good