The lights went out, a bass guitar boomed with window-rattling power. A puff of incandescent smoke and 35,000 people started screaming: Michael Jackson and his "Bad Tour" had touched down in Europe.
In the first stop of a 31/2-month European tour, his solo debut on this side of the Atlantic, the "Buckled One" had the capacity crowd screaming and chanting in Rome's Flaminio sports stadium - and fainting by the dozens.To the accompaniment of flashing lights, billowing smoke, shadow dancing and other special effects, Jackson moonwalked his way through hit songs from his "Bad," "Thriller" and "Off the Wall" albums.
His dancing was energetic and raunchy.
Critics were less kind than the crowd. They gave high marks to Jackson's talent but bemoaned the precise choreography and lavish effects.
"The songs went by like so many video clips," wrote Gino Castaldo in the newspaper La Repubblica. "The crowd (seemed) to be in front of a giant television."
Wrote Fabrizio Zampa in Il Messagero, after giving a detailed description of each of Jackson's physical features, "Scrutinized with much patience through powerful binoculars, Michael Jackson is more or less like this: a likable and smooth little Frankenstein who glides across the stage as if in a video clip, offering an incredible variety of movements."
Rome, where Jackson held a second concert Tuesday night, has been in the grip of Jackson fever ever since he arrived in town more than a week ago.
Newspapers and magazines devoted acres of print to the reclusive star, endlessly speculating over the various stories about his alleged shyness, sexuality (or lack of same), facial restructure, skin lightening and attempts to attain eternal youth.
Over the weekend, Jackson hobnobbed with celebrities such as actress Sophia Loren, director Franco Zeffirelli and designer Valentino at an exclusive party given by U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Rabb.