Michael Jackson, who has been MIA for much of the last three years, will embark on his first-ever solo tour in September, starting in Japan. According to personal manager Frank Dileo, Jackson will also tour in Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe. Dileo made the announcement yesterday in Tokyo at a press conference attended by hundreds of reporters. He read a typically succinct statement from the reclusive 28-year-old star: "I am excited to start my world tour by beginning in Japan. I promise thrilling and exciting concerts in Japan."

Dileo said Jackson is in Los Angeles preparing for the tour and doing final mixes on the still untitled follow-up to "Thriller," the bestselling album of all time, with 38.5 million copies sold worldwide. The new album, originally expected in February and delayed a number of times already, is now rumored for an Aug. 31 release, but a CBS spokesperson said that nothing will be announced until it has all the material -- masters, covers and credits -- in hand. A release date will be announced 48 hours later. However, CBS and Jackson both being product savvy, it's doubtful he would embark on a tour without the record being in the can.

Tour organizers said Jackson would kick off his tour with three concerts each in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka between Sept. 12 and 27. There will be two 240-inch video screens, and the shows will be taped and broadcast in Japan as part of television special by Nippon Television Corp., presenters with Nippon Telephone and Telegraph Co. of the shows. This will be the Gloved One's first concert tour since the Jacksons performed a five-month "Victory Tour" in the United States and Canada in 1984, and his first appearance in Japan since he performed concerts as a member of the Jackson Five in 1973. The organizers estimate Jackson's scheduled nine concerts in Japan will draw more than 250,000 fans.

Life From the Dead

"In the Dark," the Grateful Dead's first studio album of this decade (yes, it has been that long), will be released Monday by Arista. "A Touch of Grey," the first single, is already getting some airplay, and the band has just finished its first-ever video for that song, directed by Gary Gutierrez and featuring dancing skeletons that reverse the trend and turn into the Dead. Drummer Billy Kreutzman's 18-year-old son Justin has also produced and directed a film on the making of the video; if he's been at all influenced by his next-door neighbors, the Coppolas, it just might be interesting.

Last week the Dead were rehearsing in San Francisco with their new rhythm guitarist, a guy named Bob Dylan, who's apparently taking a busman's holiday from his own tour to be a sideman on a dozen or so Dead dates. Among the songs they rehearsed: "I Want You," "All Along the Watchtower," "Serve Somebody" (in a heavy-metal version), "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "Not Fade Away" and a number of old jug band tunes with Dylan on harmonica and Mickey Hart on washboard. This is also the first time Jerry Garcia has played pedal steel guitar and banjo since his days with New Riders of the Purple Sage. (The Dead are scheduled to play at the Capital Centre Sept. 11, 12 and 13.)

The last time Dylan performed onstage with the Dead was almost Jerry Garcia's swan song. Last July 7 at RFK Stadium, the final date of the Dead's tour with Dylan and the Tom Petty band, Dylan sat in on two of his songs, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Desolation Row." Three days later, Garcia was rushed, comatose, to a hospital with a severe diabetes problem; he has since regained his health. Incidentally, because there's already one Bob (Weir) in the band, Dylan has reportedly picked up a new handle: Spike.

The Cru e Controversy

Mo tley Cru e, whose "Girls, Girls, Girls" is No. 2 on the Billboard charts, came close to being banned from performing at a county-owned arena in Sedgwick County, Kan. A week ago today, the county commission refused to approve a contract for a July 10 concert at Kansas Coliseum. That vote followed a campaign by the Wichita chapter of the National Federation for Decency and various church groups to persuade the commission to ban groups the protesters consider obscene. But Friday, after hearing warnings they could be sued for violating First Amendment rights to free expression, the commissioners changed their minds and their vote.

Michael O'Donnell, a minister at Grace Baptist Church in Wichita, which is supporting the Federation for Decency's proposal, said the reversal wasn't a defeat because the protesters succeeded in focusing attention on the issue. Songs on the "Girls, Girls, Girls" album deal with, among other things, a brutal murder and the joy of statutory rape. The group's lead singer, Vince Neil, served 30 days in jail last year for vehicular homicide in a drunk-driving case. Look for the Cru e at Capital Centre in late August.