He opened with "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' " and then moved into "Heartbreak Hotel" and declared, "It's great to be back in America."
That was how Michael Jackson launched the first of his three nights at the Civic Arena in late September 1988. I had written an advance feature and went the initial night for a color story (interviewing fans and listening to just a few songs before hustling back to the office) and returned to watch the entire show another evening.
I remember the music but, more than that, the astonishing dancing. He seemed to defy human gravity and anatomy as he glided across the stage in a way that had drawn a call from Fred Astaire to compliment his dancing on the "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever" special.
Jackson later visited Astaire and showed him and choreographer Hermes Pan how to moonwalk. He also dedicated his autobiography to the celebrated actor.
In these days of Internet sales, it may not seem as impressive but Jackson set a record in 1988 by moving 50,000 tickets - roughly $1.2 million worth - in seven hours. When tickets went on sale, followers camped out on the sizzling concrete for a day and a half and then arrived at the show with roses - red and white - for Jackson.
Fans arranged their lives around the shows in Pittsburgh. A woman from Madras, India, had timed her visit to America to see her daughters to coincide with Jackson's concert. She was there with them and her 12-year-old granddaughter from McCandless.
Rob Sherman, a nightclub singer from Garfield, told me he hired a Downtown seamstress who specialized in theatrical costumes to make three outfits he wore to the three shows. On the day I met him, he was resplendent in red jacket, with rows of buttons looped with gold braid, black pants with red pleated sides, white tuxedo shirt and red bow tie and cap.
In a Time cover story in March 1984, Steven Spielberg said of the singer, "He's like a fawn in a burning forest." Watching the gloved one chat with E.T., he said, "I wish we could all spend some time in his world."
Back when he was still Peter Pan, a boy who never was granted the luxury of a childhood and tried to recapture it in an innocent way.