I’m a Michael Jackson fan but I don’t know where I’d place myself on the fandom spectrum; certainly not a casual fan and not an überstan who writes fanfiction or has detailed memories of every setlist from every concert he ever performed in. Let’s say between the middle and the überstan.
Now I’ve opened this article with that information, onto the main story: I didn’t know about Michael’s ill-fated concert in Moscow in 1993. James P. Gallagher wrote about it for the Chicago Tribune back in September 1993 and it’s pretty remarkable for a number of reasons.
The opening 3 paragraphs descended into chaos with every line:
Michael Jackson had been on stage for barely five minutes when Natalya and her friends decided to leave.
“This isn’t anything like what I expected,” the 25-year-old housewife complained. “I waited two hours in the rain, and this just isn’t worth it.”
Natalya wasn’t moved by Jackson’s music, but that was only one reason for her dismay.
All around her, rain-soaked Russians were drinking vodka and getting nasty.
“I’ve been to a lot of concerts,” her friend Yulia said, “but I’ve never seen people like this at any of them. Who would expect to find so many drunks at a concert?”
One does not simply remain unmoved by Michael Jackson’s music (well, they can but they’re acquaintances at best). But besides that it got worse. After spending a few days in the city, only a few years after the Soviet Union was dissolved, when it was time for his concert, he was 2 hours later. That sounds shitty but in my experience as a concert goer, not shocking (I had to wait that long for De La Soul in Manchester in 2014 and that concert sucked because of the crowd so I feel you, Natalya.)
His delay was likely due to the rain, which arrived early and put on an all-day performance without a crowd:
The open-air concert Stadium was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., but Jackson didn’t appear until two hours later, after the rain that had fallen all day finally faded to a misty drizzle.
He was driven to the sheltered stage in a posh Zil limousine, and emerged amid a stunning pyrotechnics display. By that time, though, thousands of soaked and shivering fans had called it a night and headed home.
But before all that, there were issues with tickets—they couldn’t get rid of them all.
For starters, there were all those empty seats-perhaps as many as 20,000. And most of the other seats were occupied by honest-to-goodness grownups, not the archetypal teenyboppers who routinely turn out for Jackson’s shows.
Then there were the dozens of disappointed ticket scalpers, who had lined up outside the Luzhniki Stadium with high hopes of turning a thumping profit off the Moscow phase of Jackson’s tour.
Some ended up giving away their tickets.
This is the only time I’ve ever known scalpers to come off so badly (here for that to be honest). Imagine getting a free ticket to see Michael Jackson. The gig itself was lacklustre what with all the drunks, empty seats, the deluge, and Michael being visibly unhappy with the weather conditions (there were people wiping the water on stage while he performed).
It’s a testament to him that he could still pull off his spins on a wet stage. I’d have been like Bambi on ice. But I’m also not one of the greatest entertainers of all time although I try my best.