Michael Jackson ever present as brothers team up for Unity Tour

He sounds happy and a little sad at once, his voice idling at the intersection of the two emotions, soft, wistful and sanguine.

"It's the bitter with the sweet, you know?" says Jackie Jackson, the second child in the storied Jackson family of musicians, speaking of the longing that's casting a shadow over all the good vibes he's been feeling lately like a storm cloud temporarily obscuring the sun.

Jackson's talking about the Unity Tour, where he and brothers Jermaine, Tito and Marlon, four-fifths of the Jackson 5, have teamed up for their first extensive series of live dates since 1984.

But they're doing it without the famous member of the group, Michael, who died a little more than three years ago.

"All during rehearsals we were weeping, because we know that he's not with us anymore and it's just kind of hard doing his songs," Jackson says, reflecting on the loss of his brother. "Sometimes we break down in the show. We see the audience breaking down and they make us break down at the same time. People loved him so much."

According to Jackson, there were plans for the brothers to mount a full-scale tour together before Michael's passing.

"Right after the O2 Arena shows, he was going to take a break for two to three months, and all the brothers were going to go out together with him and do a stadium tour of the whole world," Jackson says of the series of London concert dates Michael had scheduled before his death. "That didn't happen, so we mourned for three years."

Then, the brothers began assembling their own production, doing everything themselves, completing the process in a little more than a month.

"For two weeks, we were at Jermaine's house, just putting the whole show together, handwriting everything down, what songs we wanted to use," Jackson says. "Then we went to a rehearsal hall with the band and spent maybe three weeks with them. And that was it."

What the brothers came up with is a 90-minute, 27-song presentation culled from the Jackson 5 canon as well as solo hits from Jermaine and Michael's early career.

There's also deeper catalog cuts such as "Man of War," which the Jacksons have never played live until now.

Michael's presence looms large through it all, as he's featured in a video interlude, and his songs like "Rock with You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" are among the most well-known selections performed.

Speaking about his brother gets Jackson reminiscing about the origins of the Jackson 5 and how business-minded he says the group was from the beginning.

"None of us ever went to clubs after shows, we just went to bed," he recalls. "The next morning it was about getting on the bus or the plane and having your energy for the next day. We took it very seriously. We did our clubbing on the stage."

The 61-year-old Jackson sounds decidedly more relaxed these days.

He has a house here in Vegas, in the Lake Las Vegas area, two doors down from Celine Dion. He has split his time between here and Los Angeles for the past four years, first lured to town because his mother and various siblings own property locally.

Jackson hopes to eventually bring the Unity show to Vegas on a full-time basis.

"After touring the world a couple of times, the plan is that we'll be playing on the Strip," he says. "We want find to a permanent home here."

Of course, there's the Michael Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show set to open at Mandalay Bay in December, which Jackson says he was not involved with, though he was consulted for Cirque's touring tribute to this brother, "The Immortal."

Until then, there's the Unity Tour, which Jackson knows will be greeted with some skepticism.

"A lot of people didn't know what they were going to get because Michael wasn't there, and I can understand that," Jackson says.

He then notes that the Jacksons are just trying to put on a good show, which he sees as the most honorable way of honoring his brother.

"We just do exactly what he would do."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.