Timberlake enraptures his fans
13,000 at John Paul Jones Arena watch him bring sexy back
CHARLOTTESVILLE It’s good to be Justin Timberlake. Rich, talented, a chick-magnet and holding the chops for a long-lasting career all at only 26. He’s also so cool that he can play a keytar on stage and make it look fashionable.
It’s probably OK to hate him, but he makes it tough because he’s also blessed with the kind of charm that naturally oozes every time he juts out his stubbled chin and flashes a lopsided grin.
His FutureSex/LoveShow, which parked at John Paul Jones Arena last night for an in-the-round spectacle, kept a sold-out audience of predominantly loud female fans in a state of slack-jawed bliss. From the second Timberlake rose from the bowels of the stage to murmur the words to “Future Sex/Love Sound” over a thick electronic beat, the frantic flashes of camera phones and hyper text-messaging never ceased.
Clearly, Timberlake has evolved from his curly-mopped days in’N Sync, garnering industry respect with his two soulful solo albums and emerging as the pop star of his generation.
His audience, however, still largely consists of teenage girls (and pockets of guys), whose parents probably hoped they couldn’t understand the lyrics to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, which blasted into the arena just before the houselights dropping.
Though Timberlake sounded fantastic throughout his two-hour-plus show — which also included a pointless, momentum-sucking 20-minute DJ set from Virginia native Timbaland — the bizarre staging likely left many fans frustrated. With all in-the-round shows, the nosebleed seats usually provide the best sightlines. But adding to the difficulty of seeing Timberlake only a quarter of the time was the presence of sheer curtains that cascaded down in the middle of songs. They often served a purpose — as video screens — but more frequently obstructed the stage. Those who paid $500 for the ringside view likely weren’t thrilled.
Because Timberlake hired a small city to accompany him on stage — seven funky musicians, nine dancers and four backup singers — his cropped head was usually difficult to locate, even though it was attached to a natty three-piece dark suit.
But in the middle of “My Love”, the band sunk below the stage, leaving Timberlake in the spotlight, solo, to pop, lock and slide with his fluid grace. He’s such a nimble dancer that his sneakers never seem to touch the ground.
“Word on the street is that Virginia is for lovers . . . or those who just want to have sex a lot”, he teased, before rolling up his sleeves, downing a shot of tequila with his band and slipping behind an electric piano for “Se?orita”. It’s evident that Timberlake was enjoying himself on stage as he bounced between instruments, cruised the circumference of the stage for “Sexy Ladies” — which owes more than a thank-you-for-the-bass-line to Prince’s “Pop Life” — and poked out his tongue while laughing with his band. His falsetto navigated the tricky notes of a guitar-squealing “What Goes Around . . . Comes Around” and later returned for the equally dramatic “Cry Me a River”, silencing anyone who disputes the kid’s vocal abilities.
It’s good to be Timberlake, sure — especially when you can keep 13,000 people enraptured simply by beatboxing and drawling the words, ‘I’m bringing sexy back” — but it’s also a heck of a lot of hard work.
Sharing the bill with Timberlake was the feisty Pink, who rocked a 40-minute set in a short black dress and knee-high boots. Her voice raw and powerful — is there anyone better to play Janis Joplin these days? — Pink tore through her considerable hit list and demonstrated why she deserves an arena tour of her own. “Trouble”, “Just Like a Pill” and the hilarious “Stupid Girls”, her scathing skewering of pop culture, kept the crowd adrenalized, while her beautifully crafted pop songs, “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me” were perfect sing-alongs.
Justin Timberlake with Pink
Forget sexy. JT is bringing curvy back. Say what you want about Justin Timberlake, the man does not seem to go in for the emaciated aesthetic. The women among his back-up singers and dance crew are frankly female in form. Tiny waists, I grant you, but hippy hips and round butts. The better to gyrate with, perhaps, but the anti-anorexic point remains the same. It was true, too, maybe even more so, for Pink, whose girl-love, trapeze act, shit-kicking opening set deserves a closer look than the capacious JPJ—and a distracted, text-messaging audience—could provide.
All of which, on the body image front, is good news for the legions of teenage girls who made up at least two-thirds of the crowd at Sunday night’s seamless show. The other good news: After his 17-song set, entirely comprising tunes from his two solo records, no fan (of any age) should ever again have to justify her attachment to JT. He plays (piano, guitar, synth, just to name a few); he sings (sounding at times like a seasoned gospel singer, especially on big emotional numbers like “Losing My Way”); he dances, I mean he really dances; he jokes around (he busted out a few bars of the not-ready-for-primetime “Dick in a Box” satire that has been in heavy rotation on YouTube); he wears his clothes well; and he’s endowed with the kind of joyful charisma that can make you forget you’re watching a multi-platinum musician performing in the round along with 14,000 strangers (including, in my section, a set of Paris/Lindsay wannabes who planned to teeter their way onto the tour bus if they had to blow every security guard along the way to get there).
The show (which featured an “intermission” set of turntable work by Timbaland, JT’s producer) was entirely free of low moments, from the second Timberlake emerged on stage in a blue suit and heavy white sneakers, thin and crowned by the faintest stubble of hair, looking like Michael Stipe by way of David Bowie—The Disco Singer who Fell to Earth. Boy band? What boy band? This was a confident, grown-up artist in our midst. Highlights: “Sexy Ladies”, with its extended dance number that put his nonchalant foot-slip/toe-drag/stutter-skip syncopated choreography on rich display. Timberlake is actually more graceful than his dance moves sometimes let on; he goes in for the kind of slightly awkward, joint-flicking-on-every-beat performances that are MTV’s lasting contribution to dance history, but a trained eye staring intently at his very fine form (who, me? I was only doing my job!) can discern the kind of lean, sustained attack that he’s capable of. Also, “What Goes Around”, the current hit single from FutureSex/LoveSounds and “Love Stoned”, another lovely example of the kind of disco-pop operatic-ballad mash-up that he first perfected on “Cry Me a River”.
The only possible complaint to make about the show—and it’s not unimportant—concerns the sound. I grant you, the John is a concrete-lined basketball arena, not Carnegie Hall. But really, could nothing be done to bring the heart-shaking bass down? It’s maybe the ultimate testament to Timberlake’s charisma—and voice—that he more than stood up to the texture-obscuring effects of the sound system. At the end, JT commended the audience for being so enthusiastic and into the show. If he could have heard us over the thumpa-booma-chucka of the PA, we would have said the same back to him.