whosbadThe King of Pop may have passed on to rock-n-roll heaven, but his music will live on for generations.

Last week, we witnessed one of the best new tribute bands to carry on the Michael Jackson legacy as “Who’s Bad,” a seven-piece band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina performed at the Electric Cowboy in Johnson City.

Ansley Roberts was excited about this group the first time he heard them several months ago.

Roberts has been producing some of the region’s most memorable live performances and still maintains one of the most active and professional entertainment agencies in East Tennessee.

Recently, he’s centered his attention at the Electric Cowboy a large venue located in a strip mall on Roan Street near the Carmike 14 Theaters in Johnson City.

Ansley had originally booked the band early in the year and GoTriCities was proud to co-sponsor this concert performance which featured a seasoned cast of entertainers who shared the music and the energy of Jackson to a crowd of 300 or more fans.

For my elitist musical friends, the idea of attending a tribute show is often met with a smirk and “C’mon!” These folks consider this form of entertainment one level above karaoke.

I’ve softened a bit over the years and realized (especially now) that I would never get to see Michael Jackson perform anymore. Considering his discography which spans decades and Ansley’s endorsement, the hype intrigued me to experience “Who’s Bad” at the Electric Cowboy.

“The Cowboy” is one of the few night clubs in our region that has a bona-fide stage, a sound system and a lighting rig to support touring bands. Recently, we’ve seen acts like Jackyl, Cold, Taproot, country star Trent Tomlinson and others show up on this venue’s schedule.

The opening band had canceled tonight and we arrived late to see a line of smokers in front of the entrance to the nightclub (believe it not – these folks have a non-smoking policy inside).

There are two large bars up front and along the side flanked by pool tables and several people had already staked their territory near the front of the stage.

Two Michael Jackson fans were moon-walking on their large dance floor dressed in eighties fashion – black loafers, black hat, white socks and one sequined white glove.

I spotted Ansley just inside the door and it was a pleasure to meet Monty Davis – the manager of The Electric Cowboy.

We talked about their current capacity and they tell me future plans include expanding the walls to accommodate over 1,000 making this place (in the old Goody’s building) the largest night club in the region.

There are many shows planned in the coming months here in Johnson City and they both seemed to feel a tribute show wasn’t my cup of tea for a music review. Usually, that’s true, but I can’t ignore the impact of Jackson’s music and very few performers may ever rival his success.

From his beginning as a child-star with the Jackson Five to his solo career that spanned decades, his legacy will forever be a part of the pop lexicon of this era. It wouldn’t be right to say that I’m a rabid fan, but his music was the soundtrack for the better part of my life and I was excited to hear the music again. And like many others – even if it was a tribute band – I was thinking – they better be good.

One of the selling points to the ‘Who’s Bad” performance is the subtitle that this group has as seven-piece band. That’s a “big-band” for today’s standard and although the stage props were at a minimum, it was good to see a rehearsed group of players kick off the first set. After a few rockin’ choruses – there he was…sort of.

From the left side of the stage, a tall striking performer dressed in a black tuxedo, hat, loafers skated into the stage to the first song of the set, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.”

Everyone at the Electric Cowboy probably looked just like me…skeptical with hands crossed and a critical eye, but that pessimism was squashed almost immediately as vocalist Joseph Bell delivered not only a convincing visual interpretation of Michael Jackson, but he was spot-on with his voice.

Backed up by one of the tightest rhythm sections I’ve heard in a long time, Bell was confident and stunning as he moved from songs that included “Dirty Diana,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Black or White.”

Described as the “Ultimate Tribute Band,” “Who’s Bad” calls Chapel Hill, NC their home, but don’t let their nearness cast any doubt on their level of showmanship. These guys are the real deal. A recent New York Post sums it up this way…”Can’t Beat It.”

Just before the show began, Ansley bought me a beer and said, “I’ll warn you in advance, the guys have two performers tonight and you’re in for a treat.” Evidently, the band travels with two impersonators who each have separate strengths.

Just as quick as the first set began, “Joseph Bell” moved off the stage and the music shifted quickly to Billie Jean. Taalib York teamed up with the horn players for a precise choreography at the front of the stage that excited all the girls up close to the stage.

It’s one thing to sing like Michael Jackson and it’s another tall order to match the changing profiles of this eclectic artist, but how could anyone do it all? That’s where York’s strength began to reveal itself during this performance.

Although Joseph Bell’s dance moves were good early in the set, it wasn’t until the two guys changed places that we saw the best dancer in the band. His voice and appearance isn’t as strong as Bell, but the dance moves from the “moonwalk” to the “anti-gravity lean” and other signature Jackson moves were mimiced with perfection.

Each vocalist changed clothes several times through the night representing Michael from the ‘Off the Wall” era to “Thriller,” “Bad” and others. Somewhere in the middle of the set, Joseph came out in a gold glittered jumpsuit complete with afro to work through a short set of Jackson Five songs including “I’ll Be There and ABC.”

A lot of acts can leave you bored after a first few songs, but I think everyone at the Electric Cowboy would agree that “Who’s Bad” was beat for beat, shockingly entertaining and visually intriguing.

No-one moved from their voyeuristic stance at the front of the stage throughout the 90 minute set. When the girls joined “Who’s Bad” on stage for one of there final encores, there was no doubt this band left a memorable impression on the audience.

Who knows what’s in store for “Who’s Bad?”

The band’s timing is probably at a fever-pitch now that we’ve lost the “King of Pop” and I suppose this year will be an extremely busy year. If they continue shaping their stage performance, add a bit more glamor and glitz, they could wind up touring the country and may find themselves in Vegas.

The music, the performers and the choreography are well-rehearsed and even though there’s no way you could expect any act to equal the presence of the original Jacko, these guys are just about as good as it gets.

“Who’s Bad” is a striking joy-ride for Michael Jackson fans and you’ll leave spell-bound if you get a chance to see them in the future.

Thanks Ansley and Electric Cowboy for such an entertaining show and it looks like this is only the beginning as you are scheduled to bring much more in the coming months including a visit by Our Lady Peace in late October. We’ll look forward to that show and we’re excited to see your crowds grow as you’ve got an extraordinary venue paired with a promoter who knows what he’s doing.