This is what Michael Jackson should be doing.
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The popping and locking, the otherworldly falsetto, the enthralling stage persona — Justin Timberlake either stole “The Gloved One’s” mojo or Jackson bestowed it upon him during one of those weird awards show encounters. Either way, whatever made Jackson the “King of Pop” back in the ’80s is now clearly in the hands of a scruffy white kid who used to be part of a boy band.
On Tuesday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Anaheim’s Honda Center Timberlake not only brought pieces of Jackson’s renowned showmanship to the stage, but he embellished upon it. He jammed on the guitar, he tickled the ivories, he made the über-cheesy keytar seem cool, he even sang a verse of Lionel Richie’s “Easy”.
The show began with the title track from Timberlake’s newest set “FutureSex/LoveSounds”. The tune features a spacey hook sung to a robotic cadence that served to build tension as the audience of mostly 20-something females swooned in anticipation. The singer stood near-motionless at center stage as the roars got louder, which conjured up images of Jackson in the same posture a decade or two ago.
From there it was straight into “Like I Love You”, the mega-hit off his 2002 solo debut, “Justified”. Timberlake’s falsetto really shines on this track, and he effortlessly switched from playing guitar to dancing without skipping a beat.
On “Senorita”, another track off his debut, he did a stint on the piano. His smooth yet soulful delivery made it easy to imagine that a stripped-down set in a club without all the dancers and lights would go down just as well.
After eight songs, Timberlake abandoned the stage for about 15 minutes while his collaborator and producer Timbaland took over for a somewhat puzzling DJ set. Timbaland’s chops for seamlessly blending the music of hip-hoppers like Jay-Z and Missy Elliott into rock numbers from Coldplay were impressive, but his performance only served to kill the concert’s momentum.
When Timberlake returned in a new outfit, the energy was quickly restored as he went straight into “Rock Your Body” before segueing into a sparse acoustic take on “Gone” — a tune from his days in ‘N Sync. The song showcased the scope of his musicianship as he plucked his guitar and sang like a troubadour rather than a pop star.
“Cry Me a River”, a song about a spurned lover turned bitter, kept the energy high late into the night before the final track, “Sexyback”. The lead single off “FutureSex/LoveSounds” is a jangling dance number without a typically infectious chorus, but it was just what the crowd was looking for from the set’s closing number.
Just two albums into his solo career Timberlake has shed the trappings of teen-idol-boy-band cog and emerged as pop music’s premier live performer. As long as Jacko’s personal issues get in the way of his professional ones, things should stay this way for a while.
A Justin Timberlake fan displayed inappropriate behavior Tuesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. During the “SexyBack” singer’s new arena show, which hits Staples Center next week, she tossed a cowboy hat onstage. Timberlake, grooving and popping his way through his 2003 hit “Rock Your Body”, glanced sideways at the chapeau — and kept on dancing. Bono or Kelly Clarkson or even Timberlake’s pal Timbaland might have donned the hat, to the screaming delight of fans. But Timberlake is not that kind of pop star.
The most supremely confident entertainer of his generation, Timberlake reaffirmed his focus with this musical decathlon. It’s all about gesture: Timberlake’s perfect vocabulary of shrugs, hip shakes and sneaky turns form a language of passion and pleasure that parallels music’s own transcendent expressiveness. Dressed in a Broadway hoofer’s unstuffy suit and loose tie, he sang beautifully throughout Tuesday’s very long show, and played guitar and keyboards. But mostly, he danced. And his body’s eloquence was boundless.
After a set by Pink in which the gutsy singer displayed some high-flying Cirque du Soleil-style moves of her own, Timberlake, surrounded by his band and a loose troupe of dancers, offered a quick hello and set forth into perpetual motion. Alone onstage during “My Love”, he moved his arms and head rhythmically, creating a physical image of the human beatbox sounds he loves to make; then he jerked his torso as if he were a turntable manipulated by a scratching DJ. Instead of dancing just to bump up the energy of his show or to display his hot physique, he aligns dance and music so closely that they become a full-body art.
Like the tap dancers and soft-shoe masters he emulates, Timberlake feels music deep in his limbs: seeing him perform most of the tracks from the nervy 2006 album “FutureSex / LoveSounds” in ever-shifting tableaux of dancers (and dancing band members) reinforced how much these rhythmically dense, incantatory songs are born from Timberlake’s impulse to move.
For him, emotion is physical first, then it emanates to his voice, and he approaches all aspects of his art with economy and great care. It’s no coincidence that he’s obsessed with the percussive vocal technique of beatboxing. Even when playing keyboards, which he often did, Timberlake swayed and tapped the keys with a light, percussive touch that propelled his singing.
A circular stage with several trapdoors and a revolving center kept Timberlake circulating even when he sat down to play or stood still to focus on a ballad. Laser lights shot into the crowd; rising and falling scrims captured video images, sometimes enclosing Timberlake and his band entirely so they seemed to be projections themselves. (A screen orchestra “accompanied” Timberlake on one song; during another, he taped himself with a tiny handheld camera, the scrims filling with his huge, distorted mug.) The constant motion was in startling contrast to the usual tired skits and costume changes of arena pop. Sometimes a plot line would surface, as when two showgirls teased Timberlake while he sang “Damn Girl”, but the main focus — grace, both musical and corporeal — always returned.
For all of its star’s suppleness, the show had some flab. Timbaland, the production mastermind behind Timberlake’s best music, made some cameos and helmed a bumping DJ set, but it lasted too long. Following it with a subdued medley of older hits, Timberlake dampened the mood. Only the undeniable “Cry Me a River” resuscitated the evening.
Timberlake could refine these excesses, or he might find that audiences like the overkill. In Anaheim, the fans turned a sterile arena into a nightclub, showing off their own best gestures. They weren’t quite up to Timberlake’s level, but a few could really shake their hips.
ANAHEIM, California (Hollywood Reporter) – Somewhere between ‘N Sync and this week’s launch of his 2007 FutureSex/LoveShow tour, Justin Timberlake made the transition from boy band to a man with his own band, paying homage as a fan. Judging from the second stop on the world tour Tuesday night in Anaheim, it’s an evolution that serves him well, and one that his fans don’t seem to mind one bit.
That is, if the bulk of the sold-out Honda Center even realized that most of what their hero delivered has been done before, most notably — and often obviously — by the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson.
Early in the 140-minute set, “Sexy Ladies” and “Until the End of Time” were strung back-to-back like an homage to “Gett Off” and the title track from Prince’s 1991 release “Diamonds and Pearls”. While it’s easy to run aground when following so close to the heels of a legend, Timberlake delivered the duo respectfully. Rather than play to ego, he played to the seven-piece band that accompanied him throughout the night — his answer to the Purple One’s New Power Generation — and was joined by nine dancers and four backing singers. Solo superstar that he has become, Timberlake was never alone in the spotlight for too long, and the conservative approach played to his strengths.
His falsetto never hit the shrieking wail that much of the predominantly suburban crowd unleashed during the night, but its touch still didn’t help “My Love”. Instead, the set’s high points came when JT let his smooth Southern soul mingle with the colorful hues of rhythm and blues.
“Losing My Way” and “Cry Me a River” were successive ballads offered with an epic flair, the first featuring Timberlake alone at a piano at the center of the in-the-round stage. Canopied for the song, the curtains that surrounded him featured video footage of an orchestra and gospel choir, a subtle touch that spoke volumes: Timberlake’s not afraid to let the songs shine brighter than his star.
The dancers returned on “River”, the choreography as tasteful as it was throughout the night, while still adding significantly to the show. While it was easy to see splashes of Jackson’s moves on “Rock Your Body” and “Summer Love”, they never stole the focus, as Timberlake’s dancing was never more than an accent. The vocal highlight of the night came in a medley, his former band’s “Gone” blending into the soft, soothing croon of “Take it From Here”, allowing for a brief segue through the Commodores’ “Easy” and into the Stevie Wonder-sounding “Last Night”.
But it was new album “FutureSex/LoveSounds” that made the biggest impact, played in its entirety throughout the night. Rapper-producer Timbaland joined Timberlake for “Chop Me Up”, then stayed onstage for a 30-minute DJ set/mash-up (accompanied by Timberlake on keyboards) that featured a bevy of today’s hits and classic tracks.
The obvious highlight, though, was “SexyBack”, which closed the main set and showed the potential of Timberlake’s future, melding his suave confidence and soulful style with a techno pulse and steady backbeat that — along with the new album’s title track, which opened the set, and “Love Stoned” — demonstrated that there might be more to this former boy band standout than meets the eye.
Timberlake not only brought sexy back, he brought it back with the promise of a bright future.