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Nueva crítica FutureSex/LoveShow: “Algo de amor para las chicas”

Some love for the ladies
Review: The men don’t know but the little girls understand – Justin Timberlake is a supreme entertainer.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Three hours from Fullerton to San Diego in rush-hour traffic on Elvis’ birthday, and from a passing femme-stuffed SUV with its windows down the first thing we hear when we step out of our car is this: “Are those guys really going to this show?”

Yes. Yes, we are.

I’m the one in the Midnight Diablo shirt with skulls on it. Desert Jeff is in a custom-made navy-blue job that screams: “DOWN FOR WHATEVA”.

When we enter the ipayOne Center at the Sports Arena — where a little more than an hour later Justin Timberlake will unveil his hotly anticipated, hugely entertaining new pop spectacle before a squealing capacity crowd — we realize that the ratio of women to men here is at least 25-to-1.

That figure may be a gross underestimate, actually. The only other guys we spot, rare like polar bears in Hawaii, seem to fall into two groups. There are those dragged here by girlfriends or wives, all of whom surely stopped paying attention to them once the real object of their desire emerged. And there are those who are very openly gay, like the overcome man-fan directly across the arena from me, whose homemade white T declared “I {hearts} JT”.

Just how many women were here? Once the line to get into the ladies’ room after Pink’s acrobatic opening set snaked back some 75 dolled-up hotties of every age, those at the end of the queue realized they were standing at the entrance of the men’s room. So they simply claimed those stalls, too.

A clear indication that Justin Timberlake is nothing more than the ’00s reigning heartthrob, right? Maybe.

But his new tour — which played Honda Center in Anaheim Tuesday and stops at Staples Center in L.A. on Jan. 16 — is proof that the guy is also a supreme entertainer. His show is one of the most enticing, infectious doses of live joy a male pop performer has unleashed on wide-eyed and wanton women since the ’80s heyday of Prince, Michael Jackson and George Michael.

To be sure, it ain’t Prince circa “Purple Rain”, even if the buzz in the air at the Sports Arena felt the same as what I remember of the Forum in ’84. It isn’t the equivalent of Jacko’s prime, either, if only because this sprawl isn’t so groundbreaking; Timberlake has an arsenal of slippery-sharp moves at his disposal, but just as his marvelously soulful falsetto is learned from MJ (and Prince), so are many of his dance steps.

That said, he’s got much more to offer than George Michael did at the time of “Faith” — for starters, his tunes are far more robust and danceable. After a while, I found myself clapping and unself-consciously grooving — something that has never happened when I’ve witnessed JT contemporaries like Usher and Maroon 5.

Partly what makes Timberlake so winning, of course, is his charm and charisma, and how skillfully, sometimes unsuspectingly he unleashes both on his audience. Working his way across every inch of a magnificent in-the-round stage that grants an up-close experience for those positioned either at center ice or at the goal-ends of the arena, Timberlake was positively commanding from the opening “FutureSex/LoveSound” through the closing “SexyBack”.

It was difficult to take your eyes off him, clad first in an all-white three-piece suit, in black uptown-noir get-up for the show’s second half and all class throughout — no cheap shirt-removing, abs-flexing maneuvers here. Even when he wasn’t in motion, however, plopped instead center-stage at an upright piano and bringing his superb band of urban-soul experts in tight for ballads or the furious acoustic-guitar strum of “Like I Love You”, he remained a compelling presence.

He exhibited the masterly control of a seasoned pro — which in some regards he is. And he was easily capable of achieving that difficult feat of capturing intimacy in such a vast space.

What’s more, his tunes — and the organic execution of them live — are a cut above other pop ditties these days. It was highly satisfying to discover that the lessons learned during JT’s eye-opening club tour last year haven’t been discarded. Clearly that was just a means of honing his and his band’s chops, to get these jams in the pocket before adding a team of dancers to shimmy through them. (And about those quick-steppers: How refreshing to see curvaceous female performers, not the buffed-up size-1 sticks that have become the norm.)

The show, I must say, is not perfect. Every cut from “FutureSex/LoveSounds” — and he tackled nearly all of ‘em — sounded stronger than it did on record, with “Love Stoned” and the Prince-ly “Damn Girl” wowing most. But Timberlake still doesn’t have enough first-rate material to justify a two-hour-plus extravaganza, no matter how dazzlingly presented.

And though it’s nice he has Timbaland along for cameos, giving the producer 20 minutes to doodle as an intermission quickly grew intolerable. A swifter package would have cut Timba’s time in half, kept him to a medley of his biggest hits (including much more Missy Elliott), excised two or three JT tunes and had the show clock in at about 100 minutes.

I also wonder if at times some attendees found the gargantuan skrims raised and lowered throughout the set to be a nuisance. At center-ice, they were wonderful accoutrements, with JT’s babyface plastered across them. From other angles, however, it appeared that they blotted out the real thing.

But those are minor quibbles about an otherwise consummate entertainment, one of the best pop displays this decade, with only Madonna’s more thought-provoking grandiosities topping it. It’s a shame, frankly, that so many stereotypical guys can’t see past the girlishness of digging Timberlake and enjoy him for more than a (great) crude joke on “Saturday Night Live”.

With this album and show, he’s leapt to a whole new level of excitement that goes far beyond gender lines. This is the tour that will solidify his reputation as one of his generation’s greats.

And, really, if a single guy can’t score at one of his gigs, well, he’s just not trying.

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