ROCK / Alleluia] Jesus of Disneyland

The savagery with which sections of the press - not just the tabloids but supposedly liberal voices too - have turned on Michael Jackson is unforgiveable. It's not Jackson's sickness or otherwise that should concern us, but our own. He did all this for our benefit. We the consumers wanted him to be strange and different - the black/white man/woman child/adult - and now all of a sudden we are supposed to hate him for it. Fortunately, Michael's fans understand with a clearer moral sense than most commentators that a 33-year-old man, sealed off by a warped upbringing and 24 years of hyper-celebrity from meaningful social relationships with anyone other than ageing film stars, small children and animals, deserves support rather than persecution.

The tape of 'Carmina Burana' which preceded his appearance at Wembley Stadium has properly dualistic associations, calling to mind both The Omen and the Old Spice ad. It accompanies a video montage of planes arriving, people being pushed out of the way by security guards and mass stampedes, which provides a striking impression of the sheer physical shock of Jackson's fame. He makes a great entrance; shooting up from out of the front of the stage and high into the air in a beautiful shower of sparks. Broom-handlers swish out to sweep away the remnants of the effect, and he just stands there, for ages, a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Throughout the first two up-tempo numbers, it looks like he's going to be run over. The current spiky swingbeat of 'Jam' and the vintage disco strut of 'Wanna Be Startin' Something' sound equally terrible. The drummer seems to be lost somewhere in Neasden, the tempo is speeded up beyond human endurance, and Michael has some awful problem with his microphone which forces him to keep pulling it back and forward around his face, so all you can hear is an eerie distracted wheezing.

With the first ballad though, his lovely, simple falsetto voice - too often hidden by those trademark Scat- hiccups - breaks out of the cocoon of stadium-craft. If only he would stop doing that stupid dancing, he might be a sophisticated adult R&B act by now. In 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You', his video image melts into that of backing vocalist Siedah Garrett's, and singing together they actually manage a weird bit of chemistry. 'She's Out of My Life' follows, with a lucky fan being plucked from the crowd for a controlled embrace. The outrageous artificiality of it all - the huge rupture between the corporate image-mongering of Jackson as Jesus of Disneyland and the grubby reality of tax write-offs and product placement (someone wearing a Pepsi T-shirt even crops up with sinister regularity in the video crowd-reaction shots) - perversely renders his efforts at a little human contact more touching than they ought to be.

In the minute-long gap between the penultimate and last words of 'She's Out of My Life', Jackson appears to be crying. He knows what's coming next. The combination of an all too brief Jackson Five medley and archive footage of them all looking small and happy and Afro-ed would be heart-rending enough, even without Michael dedicating 'I'll Be There', by name, to each of the lost siblings, spotlights falling on their abandoned mike-stands. Mercifully, the mood brightens apace towards the end, with some great staging touches - fantastic dancing skeletons for 'Thriller', and an entrancing deflatable globe for 'Heal the World'. The music, notably a thunderous 'Black or White' and a genuinely hymnal 'Will You Be There?' (the great lost No 1 single from Dangerous), gathers strength as it goes on, and Jackson gets to cut loose with some proper singing on the concluding 'Man in the Mirror'. Before he, or someone very like him, soars off the stage and out of the stadium, and possibly the 20th century, with the aid of a humming Rocketeer- style jet-pack.

This is actually a much better show than his last one, which was too obviously video-led, weighed down by material from the very poor Bad album, and awash with tedious instrumental breaks as Michael struggled to adapt to touring as a solo artist. Now there's none of that introducing-the-band rubbish, and he has wisely realised that inside his current double album Dangerous there was always an excellent four-track EP itching to get out.

The possibility still exists that Jackson actually knows better than anyone what he is doing. Perhaps that's why so many people want to crucify him. The subliminal messages his career has sent out have certainly been clearer and more revolutionary than any on the slogan screens of rehabilitated rock messiahs U2. The ideal American family unit is a diseased lie, skin colour is a destructive obsession and corporate capitalism is bad for you. If that's not dangerous, I don't know what is.

Person for person, the audience that welcomes David Byrne onstage at the Brixton Academy probably has more letters after its name than any other in the venue's history, but the atmosphere is more akin to a revival meeting than a post-graduate tea party. And small wonder. Excluding the basic Latin crash-course that was his 'Rei Momo' outing, this is Byrne's first proper British tour for 10 years. His old band Talking Heads have fallen silent in the meantime, but that just makes it all the more certain that the promise of some wiry old favourites is a bigger factor in the sky-high expectations of a packed house than the supple thrills of salsa and mambo.

Byrne emerges alone, looking intense and elegant as ever in a black jacket, cut expensively short in the manner of a Come Dancing Flamenco champion. Lit by a solitary hanging lantern, and with just a guitar and beat- box for company, he works through a mixed bag of his own and other people's material: a low-grade Captain Beefheart remnant, a fine 'Nothing but Flowers' and a slightly hysterical 'Road to Nowhere'. The frivolous 'Girls on my Mind', keynote of the new album Uh-Oh, brings the curtain down on the lone-wolf prologue.

Except it doesn't. The curtain gets stuck, greatly diminishing the impact of the crowd's first sighting of the backing troupe. This is a shame because they look great, beautifully lit in a series of starkly shifting shadows. Their sound though is not so crisp. They strike up loudly with 'Mr Jones'; the horn section are fantastic, but somewhere deep in the rhythm section something is amiss. World musicians (where do non- world musicians come from?) can miss beats too. Byrne's frustration is obvious, and peaks when his guitar conks out. As he rips frenziedly at the tangled leads, for a few moments the famous manic exterior slips to reveal a seriously manic interior.

Crossed cultural wires are the easy explanation as to why so many of Tuesday night's South American-style numbers failed to make the connection. It's like watching the Miami Sound Machine fronted by Michael Ignatieff, but sometimes - when Byrne keeps his songs deceptively simple, like they used to be, rather than deceptively complicated - it really works. The lines 'Come on down, you old fart, let's see if you've got a heart' stand out beautifully from 'Something Ain't Right', and the familiar nervy guitar riff of 'Life During Wartime' is reborn as a sinuous Latin horn line to devastating effect. Best of all is a blazing Merengue-metal version of 'Burning Down the House', which out-scalds even the industrial-strength nostalgia of the solo 'Psycho Killer' and the very plaintive 'Heaven' which close the show.

Michael Jackson plays Cardiff Arms Park (0222-390111), 5 Aug; Glasgow The Haugh, 14 Aug; Leeds Roundhay Park (0532-661850), 16 Aug; and Wembley Stadium (081-900 1234), 21-22 Aug.

(Photograph omitted)

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