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On the dial: Human Nature’s days with Michael Jackson; Hal Sparks recalls ‘Queer As Folk’

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Human Nature at the Human Rights Campaign Gala at Paris Las Vegas on Aug. 28, 2010.
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

Audio Clip

Human Nature, Marc Savard

Audio Clip

Josh Strickland and Hal Sparks

2011 S.I. Swimsuit Models at Rao's With Human Nature

The greatest moment in the history of audio entertainment unfurls at the 22-minute mark of the podcast episode linked in this column.

OK, perhaps I speak in platitudes.

But at the 22-minute mark, Imperial Palace headliners Human Nature covers a song familiar to anyone who is a fan of classic rock. It is breathtaking. You will get the chills. You’ll be compelled to rush the stage, even.

I won’t ruin it. You’ll have to listen. But it’s so inspirational, you’ll be compelled to dance in the spastic manner of Angus Young when Angus was in his early 20s.

The episode of “Kats With the Dish” aired March 11, as all four members of the Motown tribute act filed into KUNV 91.5-FM and recorded a fun and revealing (in that order) interview with Tricia McCrone and myself. During the session, Andrew Tierney, Michael Tierney, Toby Allen and Phil Burton recalled their days opening for Michael Jackson during his “HIStory” tour of 1996-97.

Asked if the band enjoyed any meaningful interaction with Jackson, Allen said without pause: “No.”

We need a better answer, boys.

Burton stepped in to provide some interesting anecdote-age.

“It was right at the start of our recording career. We just had our first album out, and it was amazing for us, as a new pop act, to be on a tour like that,” he said. “It did great things for us in Australia. The following year, we got on the European leg, for like 3½ months, touring with him playing at Wembley Stadium and all of these massive venues. We wound up meeting him before the third-to-last show, I think, onstage.”

It wasn’t much more than a quick meet-and-greet, time enough for the group to pose for a photo.

“We had a photo taken -- never seen it,” Burton continued, laughing. “He said he loved our show and loved what we did, and that was it. But it was amazing walking out onstage and seeing all of the little stage marks saying ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean,’ and getting to watch that show up close so many times was really cool.”

In fielding a question about lip syncing, which the Aussies avoid, Michael Tierney recalled Jackson using the technique during his choreography-heavy live performances.

“Quite a bit of that show that was lip synced. When you’re dancing like he was dancing, you can’t do both,” Tierney said. “You can’t sing the way he was singing and dance the way he was dancing without (lip syncing). You can’t put them together. You kind of understood he needed to do that.”

But the Human Nature shows are organic, pure, where even missteps and flubbed notes are exposed.

“It’s an easy cop-out to put on a vocal you’ve recorded. I think a lot of audiences know when they’re being cheated,” Tierney said. “They may as well go home and listen to the record. I think people forgive you for little errors, notes that are out of tune, if it’s live.”

Organic has long been the principal theme for Human Nature. The foursome has never used an understudy, and very rarely has anyone stood in as a substitute singer onstage.

“We’ve had fill-ins. A teacher at our school filled in for me at one show,” Burton said. “When Michael’s voice was breaking, my sister Margaret filled in for a show or two. That’s three shows, and the rest of the shows are all us. … We’ve actually thought about (hiring understudies). We’ve never done a long run of shows before like we’ve done here in Las Vegas. But how can you say, ‘The role of Toby tonight is going to be played by Greg?’ ”

Michael Tierney cut in with, “During our show, you learn the story of Human Nature. It doesn’t really make sense to have a swing. It’s kind of great -- it couldn’t exist without us four. It’s a double-edged sword, I suppose.” Or a double-edged knife. Now that’s a knife …

Hal Sparks, in rock 'n' roll mode.

Hal Sparks, in rock 'n' roll mode.

Sparks an icon

Interviewed for the show that aired last Friday was stand-up comic Hal Sparks, former “Queer As Folk” cast member and “Talk Soup” host. Sparks is currently appearing in the “Icons of Comedy” series at Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret. This is the show where we hear McCrone say, “Let’s just say it: Hal was the best of the naked men.”

That is in reference not to Sparks’ attire, or lack thereof, for the interview, but his occasionally nude scenes in “Queer As Folk,” a provocative Showtime series whose effect is still being felt five years after it ended.

“Anymore, shows carry far beyond their years, unlike TV of old,” said Sparks, who also fronts the metal band Zero1. “The show is on Logo now, the DVDs still sell amazingly well. They are almost like a tool for people coming out. … I’ve always said one of the benefits of “Queer As Folk,” the socio-political ramifications of the show wouldn’t actually come to bear until about four years after the show was off the air, because the people who watched it would start ingraining what they felt and learned and grew from the show into their natural lives.”

Sparks points to the tangible changes in American culture since the show’s run ended.

“If you look at the progression of gay marriage, the elimination of don’t ask/don’t tell, it’s almost exactly on that time line,” he said. Sparks was one of the series’ straight actors -- the cast was split nearly evenly between gay and straight actors -- and was forthright about his lifestyle during the series.

“I was very open about my heterosexuality during the show, because I thought it was necessary to really stand out as an ally in the civil rights fight that is gay rights in modern America,” he said. “There is a tool that the right wing specifically uses, which is the belief that all people who help gay people are also gay themselves -- no one would help you but your ilk. I think it’s very important to be a straight ally, an openly straight ally, and a secure straight ally.

“I’m as heterosexual as any person need be. I’m open about my relationships -- or lack thereof -- in my own life, because I want to make the case that gay isn’t contagious. It’s not something that you can catch or learn or choose. … Some people thought I was being homophobic or distancing myself from the cause, but I was just being who I was.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats With the Dish at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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