Smooth Criminals – The Songs of Michael Jackson (Luke Kennedy and Joel Turner)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
In life, as in the culinary world, there are some combinations that obviously go together, many that need to be kept apart and those that when combined become an unexpected rhapsody of delight. In its pairing of Brisbane boys Luke Kennedy and Joel Turner, “Smooth Criminals” is certainly example of the latter. In share of their mutual love of Michael Jackson, the odd couple of former Ten Tenors member and The Voice Season Two runner-up Kennedy and Aria winning artist, world beatbox champion and Australian Idol alumnus Turner, deliver a live tribute that is as entertaining as it is unique.
The duo complement each other in style and sound, particularly in delivery of lesser known songs such as Thriller’s first release, ‘The Girl is Mine’ and, from HIStory, “Stranger in Moscow’, Jackson’s lowest charting single. Indeed, what adds to the show is its song curation beyond just a ‘greatest hits’ list from the Kind of Pop’s extensive catalogue (although ‘Billy Jean’ does make appearance, sans moonwalk but with a single white glove). Early in the set, Kennedy delivers a beautiful ‘Ben’, while later, there is a moving mashup of ‘Earth Song’ and ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’, which merges into a sensitive, yet stirring ‘Man in the Mirror’ and show of how Brisbane audiences can click, if not clap along in time.
From the pre-show pump of Jackson hits to the packed Powerhouse Theatre, there is a palpable energy that ignites during the one-night-only show proper. And there is much to engage audiences, from a Springsteen style selection to bring audience member of stage, to a sing-along to the sometimes nonsensical lyrics of the funky, disco anthem, ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’.
The show is one of homage, rather than imitation with the duo making ‘Smooth Criminal’ absolutely their own, particularly through Turner’s skill in seamlessly merging into ‘Dirty Diana’, in showcase of his trademark raw power and deep bass sounds. It is a theme evident in its dialogue as much as its music choices, with Kennedy reminding that regardless of the iconography with which we associate Jackson, there was a man behind the imagery. The resulting gentle-touch of ‘Gone Too Soon’, honest in its emotion and moving in its delivery, serves as a simple reminder of this and also as a perfect illustration of Kennedy’s crisp voice, charming in its contemporary operatic sound.
In the hands of Kennedy and Turner, “Smooth Criminals” is a wonderful realisation of what happens when two conflicting musical styles meet in mutual love for a musical icon. Although it is full of subtle surprises, its faith to Jackson’s songs and what they mean is such that it will both satisfy your musical needs and re-ignite desire to revisit your own favourite tracks.