By Bob Andelman
August 4, 1986
There were three times Saturday night when a person in the more than half-empty Ruth Eckerd Hall could have forgotten that Jermaine -Jackson was you-Know-Who-With-the-Gloves older brother.
The first was during a handsome version of his biggest hit, “Do What You Do.” Jackson pushed his voice and emotional range to its limit in making a strong vocal and visual demonstration. It was the first time ali night he sounded like a lead singer instead of someone in the chorus.
The second and third instances came immediately thereafter.
“Feeling Free,” a funky chestnut from one of his first Motown solo albums, was the peak of an extravagant light show, hot band and Jackson himself melding together for the first time. Unfortunately, it was the penultimate song of the evening.
For his encore, Jackson pumped up his most recent single, “I Think It’s Love.” And in a rare relaxation of house rules, people were allowed to rush to the edge of the stage and shake hands with Jermaine, creating an electric atmosphere as he sang a nine-minute version of the perky tune.
The closeness with his fans was exactly the opposite of what his brother might have done and that left a good impression.
So much for the good news.
The first 50 minutes of Jackson’s 70-minute concert was simply a disappointment.
Appearing onstage half an hour late and without an opening act, Jackson wore a gold lame cape, jacket, slacks and suspenders. Under the jacket he wore a white muscle T-shirt.
For the first four song, “Dynamite,” “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’,” “Come to Me,’ and “I Hear a Heart Beat,” Jackson couldn’t be heard over the percussion.
Between then and “Do What You Do,”; the three female back-up singers were the lead vocals, or so it seemed. Jermaine sounded as though he was still doing harmony parts behind Michael’s faisetto in the Jackson Five.
Speaking of which:
“Seventeen years ago, my brothers and I created a musical force that captured the world,” Jermaine said, modestly, of course. “All we wanted to do was give love, peace and harmony through our music.”
And here’s where Jermaine, on his first solo tour ever, made a tactical error, performing a medley of J5 hits that Michael originally sang lead on “I’ll Be There,” “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
It was a mistake because it invites comparisons. And “Jermaine just doesn’t compare to Michael.
Wait “a minute, though. Who can compare to Michael Jackson?
The point is that Jermaine invites the comparison and it isn’t necessary. Compare him against other current R&B acts with big l0-piece band & and Jermaine shines. As a solo artist, he has had plenty of success with good songs, from “Let’s Get Serious” to “Do What You Do.”
In a relatively brief show like this one, Jermaine early on needed to attain the level he reached at the end of his Eckerd Hall concert, then top it. Undeniably, he has- the-tools; he just needs more practice asserting himself and what he is today, not what he was part of a decade ago.
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Copyright 2017 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman