The King of Pop – Michael Jackson – is one of those artists that most musicians wouldn’t dare to cover. There’s something about his brilliant creation of music that’s just too sacred to touch; something not just anyone would want to mess with.
But last week at The Newport Record Club some of Perth’s hottest talent, The Villains, did just that. Paying tribute to Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller, the 12-piece band brought out (almost) all the things we love and miss about Jackson’s musical influence. And staying true to everything the Record Club evenings have been living up too, the night showcased a calibre of talent that was simply mind-blowing.
I must admit though, I was a little skeptical about this particular show at first. Not only was it Thriller – an album that combined those gracefully energetic vocals with Jackson’s flawless approach to music – but this performance was set to feature Rachel Claudio as one of the lead vocalists. Now I’ve seen this super-talented star at the Record Club before, when she stepped in to sing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song last season and boy was she fantastic. But for a lead part in a Michael Jackson performance? I was still yet to be convinced.
Flaunting vibrant personality, liquid smoothness and that funkadelic-pop vibe renowned to Michael Jackson, lead vocalists Rachel Claudio and Danny Martin took Jackson’s Thriller to the stage with an absolute BANG! Backed by the rest of the soul band, these guys worked exceptionally well together with Claudio and Martin being the definite superstars; especially for the first half of the performance.
Staying true to Jackson’s synth-pop rock sounds and climatic buildups, the 12-piece launched into Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ with ample amounts of energy. Bursting into each track off the album as if they had written the songs themselves, Claudio and Martin collaborated perfectly with one another; mixing up various vocal parts with Matt Allen and Carrie, and Timothy Nelson from Timothy Nelson & The Infidels who stepped in for That Girl Is Mine. And when the first few notes of Thriller started just a few songs after; complete with the most memorable video clip of the 20th Century on the big screen behind the band, you knew shit was about to get real.
Oozing a level of soul almost as good as the King of Pop himself, Martin fitted the part with his red zipper bomber jacket and Thriller groove. Imitating the track’s tense darkness and contagious funk, the layered harmonies and zesty beats were infectious; captivating a packed-to-the-rim room. It was clear the audience were more than satisfied.
As The Villains made their way to side B of the album, Beat It proved to be another favourite with the crowd. The backing band definitely shone more by the second half, each adding their own unique groove to the Michael Jackson Thriller mix and boosting the dynamics of the performance to a whole new level of 80s-pop madness. Billy Jean was a personal highlight, with Martin’s vocals particularly electrifying and certainly had a number of people wearing in those dancing shoes. The only thing missing by this stage was a serious lack of the famous Michael Jackson moonwalk – one that would’ve been a definite crowd pleaser throughout these uptempo workouts!
Things slowed right down with Human Nature and the creatively inspiring Thriller album was wrapped up nicely with The Lady In My Life. But the show was nowhere near over yet. Perhaps one of the best set of encores I’ve witnessed in the local scene to date; Claudio and Martin lead the rest of the band through hit after hit of more well-loved Jackson classics.
With the audience well and truly pumped for some more Jackson magic, The Villains spiced things up further with some winning renditions away from the Thriller record, including The Way You Make Me Feel which saw Carrie taking the lead. They Don’t Care About Us was a distinct climax with Claudio’s powerfully expressive vocals and Man In the Mirror and Black and White both moved an entire crowd of Jackson fans.
Despite the screaming requests from the crowd to hear the band take on Smooth Criminal, the biggest downfall of the night was the song not being played. And you know they would’ve positively nailed a cover of the track too. Hearing such a stand-out range of encores though, and seeing the band put on a freakin’ fantastic performance certainly made up for it and breathed enough spontaneity into the show to keep the Record Club attendees 100% happy.
Raising the bar of talent higher every single time, the Record Club acts seem to get more impressively gripping each week. And if The Villain’s take on Michael Jackson’s Thriller was anything to go by, the rest of the season is surely set to go through the roof.