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Concert review: Music of Michael Jackson with the Utah Symphony

by on July 15, 2012

DEER VALLEY–Well, the programmers of the Deer Valley Music Festival seem to know their audience. Despite rain and lightning-filled weather reports, opening night of the Utah Symphony’s annual summer residency in Park City was a smashing, sell-out success.

Credit the man responsible for the night’s music–Michael Jackson’s dominance of the pop charts during his decades in the music business came through loud and clear as the symphony and guest singer James Delisco delivered hit after hit after hit over the course of what turned out to be a perfect summer night. With songs ranging from his childhood leading the Jackson 5 through his monster ’80s smashes like Thriller and Bad, Jackson’s ability to pen memorable R&B-influenced pop songs made for a slick evening of ear candy.

I arrived expecting a show heavy on the MJ ballads, figuring those songs would give the symphony the best chance to shine. I was WAY off–the show was dominated by high-energy performances that had Delisco and the two female backup singers dancing up a storm, sporting the Michael Jackson iconic attire like glittering socks, fedoras and one shiny glove at various points. Even conductor Brent Havens wore on glittering glove during “Billie Jean,” which closed down the first set and had most of the audience on its feet, clapping and dancing along.

The show started with a striking one-two punch of a couple of Jackson’s funkiest songs, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” That surprising start was the first indication it wasn’t going to simply be a night of easy listening. “Rock With You,” “Ben” and “Human Nature” all followed, giving the Utah Symphony its first shot to take some of the focus off of Delisco and the electric band delivering the disco-era dance songs. For much of the night, the symphony seemed pretty extraneous–hard to hear or simply not adding a lot to the songs.

A double-hit of Jackson 5 songs, “ABC” and “I Want You Back,” were obvious audience favorites, getting a lot of folks on their feet for the first time. “The Way You Make Me Feel” was nicely rearranged–one of the few songs to get any sort of significant reworking by the musicians.

The second set, after a short break, delivered much of the same, with “Smooth Criminal” and “Bad” being two of the highlights. Delisco was game for working the crowd and had a great stage presence. His vocals certainly were not in the same league as the man who inspired the night’s theme, but he was a worthy lead cheerleader for songs that are so familiar that the audience could have sung them themselves if only the symphony had shown up without a lead singer.

Dusk at opening night of the Deer Valley Music Festival.

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