Very few musicians can truly be called transcendent — artists whose work crosses racial, geographic and generational boundaries. In the end, death is the last barrier they transcend.
Michael Jackson is one such artist. His music still, six years after his passing, is played worldwide. Saturday, it will reverberate off the walls of the Newport Music Hall, thanks to Who’s Bad.
Who’s Bad bills itself as the “Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band,” and has been traveling the world paying homage to the king of pop since 2004. The group consists of two frontmen, who play the role of Jackson, as well as a full band and two dancers.
The band is a familiar sight in Columbus, coming through “usually once a year,” according to Marissa Luther, Promowest marketing director.
Taalib York is one of the frontmen, with band since its founding. The other is Joseph Bell, who joined the group in 2007. Bell handles more vocally-focused tracks like “Man on the Moon” and “Earth Song,” while York puts a heavier focus on Jackson’s dancing. Bell has been a performer since childhood, the same time he said Jackson’s music became “ingrained in (his) mind.”
“When ‘Billie Jean’ came out I was in the backseat of a car,” Bell said. “And that bass, ‘thump, thump, thump.’ Nothing sounded like that.”
Bell’s relationship to Jackson’s music would become much more intimate. In 2005 ,he was called to help write and demo tracks on what would have been Jackson’s comeback album. The record never got past its infancy, but Bell’s contribution, a song titled “I’m Back,” is set to be released under his name this year.
Two years later after that experience, Bell passed the audition and joined Who’s Bad.
By 2009 the band was at a crossroads, unsure of whether to carry on, when news of Jackson’s death reached it. Preparing for a show in Washington D.C. on June 26, the day after Jackson’s death, the group was suddenly inundated with media requests. Fans packed the 9:30 Club, coming from as far as Europe .
“I had never seen so many cameras,” Bell said. “Now we had to become serious. This is what we’re supposed to do.”
While a group that can count a sold out show at O2 Arena in London among its accomplishments does not have many competition bands, Bell still stresses the difference between it and other acts.
“We are more so tributing Michael than covering him,” Bell said. “It’s about celebrating him and his music.”
Concert-goers can expect to hear music from each of Jackson’s eras, from the days of the Jackson 5 to “Thriller” and beyond.
“What makes this job easy is how good the music is,” Bell said. “It has that power.”
Tickets are available, $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m.