The Commodores and The Jacksons were two of the bigger groups during Motown’s heyday—and while their celebrity may have faded a bit over the years, the groups remain relevant, as proven by the nearly sold-out audience at Fantasy Springs on Saturday, Feb. 27. While The Commodores were a delight, The Jacksons’ set was a disappointment, largely because of the curious setlist.
The first up was The Commodores. While Lionel Richie is no longer part of the group, having left in 1982, The Commodores have never stopped performing since the group began in 1968. While William King is the only remaining original member, Walter Orange has been with the group since 1972, and James Dean Nicholas has been a member since 1984.
The group started off with “Wild Thing” (not the Jimi Hendrix tune) and was energetic from the very first note onward; it soon became obvious this was a night when the crowd at Fantasy Springs would not remain seated as usual. “Easy” was the third song on the setlist, and The Commodores performed it beautifully, with people swaying their arms in the air, and shouting the lyrics “I WANT TO BE HIGH!” in unison.
Toward the middle of the Commodores’ set, just before starting “Three Times a Lady,” Nicholas said there was a special guest in the house: Katherine Jackson, the mother and patriarch of the Jackson family, which led to thunderous applause as people stood up, hoping to see her seated in the front row. During “Nightshift,” The Commodores’ tribute song to many of the R&B stars that are no longer with us, the group added Michael Jackson’s name to the lyrics.
The performance offered a taste of each member’s individual talents. William King performed his duties on trumpet, guitar and keyboard admirably, while Walter Orange really shined on a set of electric drums on “Brick House,” which closed out their set.
Despite some technical difficulties with the wireless microphones during a brief period in the middle of the set, The Commodores rocked.
Then came The Jacksons, bringing a lengthy history and many rumors along with them. Since Marlon, Tito, Jermaine and Jackie reunited in 2012, they’ve been performing more and more as a live act and have even recorded new material. Before taking the stage, a video played showing them as The Jackson 5—when they were mere kids—followed by footage of them performing in later years.
Starting off with “Can You Feel It,” the band exuded a palpable energy—at a surprisingly loud volume. The Jacksons can still dance and move in sync with each other, including Tito, with a guitar strapped over his shoulder.
The Jacksons offered a variety of material in their set, including Michael’s songs “Rock With You” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” While both were good tributes to Michael, the vocal range of the remaining Jackson brothers does not live up to that of Michael. The Jacksons did not have any involvement in the recording of those songs, although they backed Michael during “The Victory Tour” in 1984. Late in the set, the group performed another of Michael’s songs, “Can’t Let Her Get Away,” from 1991’s Dangerous.
After a video montage showing The Jacksons, along with Katherine and Joseph Jackson, speaking about their small home in Gary, Ind., before the Jacksons made it big, the group tackled the big hits of the Jackson 5 by including a medley of 60-90-second bits of songs such as “I Want You Back,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “ABC.”
The one song the group gave extra attention was “Shake Your Body,” which seemed like it was never going to end, as all of the backing musicians were given solos during an extended series of audience interactions. Turns out the song was the closer.
The Jacksons remain vocally talented and continue to display some rad dance skills—and it looks like they are having a great time performing as a unit again. But I was not the only audience member disappointed by the short shrift given to the legendary Motown material: Only minute-long snippets during a long medley?! There were also times when I questioned whether Tito’s guitar and Jermaine’s bass were plugged in, given the backing musicians were drowning them both out.
Setlist: The Commodores
Too Hot ta Trot
Just to Be Close to You
Lady (You Bring Me Up)
Three Times a Lady
Won’t You Come Dance With Me
Setlist: The Jacksons (pictured below)
Can You Feel It
I Wanna Be Where You Are
Rock With You
Let Me Show You the Way to Go
I Want You Back/ABC/The Love You Save/Dancing Machine/Never Can Say Goodbye/I’ll Be There (Medley)
Gone Too Soon
Can’t Let Her Get Away
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)