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Michael Jackson tribute band keeping the thrill alive for Columbus

Courtesy of Montauk Media

The death of Michael Jackson marked the end of an era in pop music, but his high energy performance and catchy lyrics can still be heard through tribute bands like Who’s Bad.

Who’s Bad has been performing since 2004 as a Jackson tribute band, spanning from his early career with The Jackson 5 to his more recent albums like 1995’s “HIStory.” The group will be playing at the Newport Music Hall Friday at 7 p.m.

Saxophone player Vamsi Tadepalli formed the band during his senior year of college, but said it didn’t start as a tribute to Jackson.

“I wanted to kind of keep it funky and Michael Jackson songs just kept coming up because I’ve been a fan my whole life,” Tadepalli said. “As I kept adding more Michael songs to the list, I just said, ‘Why don’t we just do all Michael because no one else is doing that?'”

The members were mostly friends of Tadepalli whom he considered to be talented musicians. He said finding dancers was essential because “Michael Jackson music does make you want to dance.”

The group’s performances usually feature six musicians, playing mostly jazz instruments, and a singer who also dances. Tadepalli said two extra dancers will be brought in for the show at the Newport.

Tadepalli said while there were impersonators and people dressing up like Jackson, there were no other tribute bands when Who’s Bad started. This set the band apart in June 2009, when Jackson died from an acute injection of propofol after suffering cardiac arrest. Jackson was set to embark on a three-month tour before the incident, leaving concert venues around the world with a vacancy in their lineups.

While Tadepalli called the event a “tragedy,” he said because of the group’s rare nature, they were one of the top hits when venues searched for “Michael Jackson tribute bands” on Google.

The death reignited people’s interest across the world, and Tadepalli said the band almost couldn’t keep up with the attention.

“Literally, right when he passed away, my phone and my agency’s phone lines were just tied up for the next month. I had my phone plugged into the wall and it would still tell me that my battery was low,” he said.

He said, “While it was a sad way to get the spotlight,” he was more than happy to remind people of “how great the music was.”

The band’s charisma and high energy add to its overall goal of “paying tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of all time,” Tadepalli said.

Tadepalli said the band likes to try to take some liberties and “change things up” during their shows, but at the same time, they pay a great deal of attention to the details of the music.

He said the band tries to recreate the effect Jackson’s music had on listeners and he worked hard to gain that level of authenticity.

“The only thing I listened to for a year was Michael Jackson, that was it,” he said. “Going back and listening with a critical ear and transcribing all the music … It brings back that nostalgic memory of when you listened to the album — you remember where you were when you heard a track for the first time.”

Tadepalli believes the day of Jackson’s death is also a key event and that people remember where they were when they heard the news.

Adam Griffin, a second-year in exploration, who said he would attend the event, said he remembers being about to play a summer league basketball game when a friend texted him the news.

He also said the death brought more attention to Jackson’s music and fueled more sales of his past hits.

“As soon as he died I bought a whole bunch of songs I probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” Griffin said.

Other students may not have had the same reaction. David Leonard, a fifth-year in electrical and computer engineering, said he remembers it happening, but doesn’t remember what he was doing, and thinks the event may be over-dramatized.

“It wasn’t a tragic event, not on par with 9/11,” Leonard said. “Our generation has gone through a lot of tragic events, but that wasn’t one of them.”

Leonard said while the music wasn’t his style, he still thought Jackson’s music was “better than a lot of people that sing today.”

Tickets to see Who’s Bad can be purchased through Ticketmaster.com for $15.

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