News Column

Tribute band will honor King of Pop

May 2, 2014

By Tom Lavis, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

May 02--HARRISBURG -- Who's Bad bills itself as the ultimate Michael Jackson tribute band.

Judging from the enthusiasm and respect the band's trumpeter and backup vocalist, Ray McCall, has for the King of Pop, that title may be an understatement.

"This is absolutely a tribute show, not an impersonation," McCall said in a telephone interview from his North Carolina home. "There was only one King of Pop, and he was a genius that has left a legacy that few could hope to achieve."

Who's Bad will bring its celebration of pop music's one true King to the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.May 16.

The audience heading for the theater, located at 450 Schoolhouse Road in Richland Township, should be prepared to be on their feet for much of the show.

"Fans do get caught up in the show and the music and often come to their feet to sing, take video and dance in their seats," McCall said.

Who's Bad is the longest-running Michael Jackson tribute band and the only one to predate his passing in June 2009.

"We were in (Washington) D.C. at the time Michael died and scheduled to do one show the next day," McCall said "Our manager and the theater owner decided it would be a tribute to his passing that we go on with the show."

That show and another was added because demand for tickets skyrocketed.

"It was a tribute to Michael's fans who came out to hear his music, and it was inspiring to see how powerful this man's life and career meant to others," McCall said.

One of he most difficult parts of the show is selecting a song list to perform. Jackson's body of work spanned decades from his childhood days with Jackson 5 to his final opus.

In its 10 years of existence, Who's Bad has played more shows in more cities worldwide than any other tribute act related to Jackson. The band is billed as The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.

Their tours have brought them around the nation dozens of times, and sent them globetrotting to places such as Singapore, China, Germany, Romania, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Holland, Canada and the United Kingdom.

McCall called his recent stop in Santiago, Chile, a true eye-opener.

"From the time we landed to the time we took the stage, we had an obvious language barrier," McCall said. "When we started to perform, many of the 8,000 people in attendance sang along with us note for note and word for word in perfect English."

McCall has been with the group for about eight years, and the current band has been solid for over two years. Members only leave when an extraordinary opportunity rises to branch out or go solo.

McCall credits their success to the collective experience of the band's musicians. All told, they have over 150 years experience as professionals.

"We have a core of amazing musicians who can dance and sing," he said.

From the costumes to the choreography to the multimedia backdrop that plays during the show, Who's Bad continues to put its best foot forward.

"By being a member of Who's Bad, I do feel you have a better appreciation for Jackson's talent and the energy it takes to succeed," he said.

He also credits the pinpoint choreography of frontmen Joseph Bell and Taalib York as they combine with the six-piece band's synchronized dance routines, blaring horns and down-deep rhythms.

"The similarities of JoBel and Taalib to Michael Jackson are amazing," McCall said. "They have the moves and the ability to hit every note."

Fans can expect to hear some of Jackson's most memorable hits including "Thriller," "Bad," "Billie Jean" and "Beat It."

There are points in the show where the band can slow it down by performing "I'll Be There" and "She's Out of My Life."

McCall said one of the highlight of the show is when they perform "The Way You Make Me Feel."

"We like to invite some of the ladies from the audience to join us on stage for that song," he said. "My favorite song in he show is 'Shake Your Body,' which makes everyone want to dance."

McCall said the costuming will not disappoint the audience.

"Our outfits are reminiscent of the 'Bad' tour, with a lot of black, reds and grays," he said.

The group gathers backstage before the show.

"We huddle up and tell ourselves that we are in this together and vow to deliver the best show we can," McCall said.

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.


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