Justin Timberlake brings superstar power back to the X
Twin Cities — Now 33, Justin Timberlake has known worldwide fame for half his life. And he’s not a reluctant celebrity, but a charming and eager people-pleaser reared in the old-fashioned showbiz tradition of “Star Search” (his first media appearance, at age 11) and “The Mickey Mouse Club” (where he shared the stage with fellow stars-in-waiting Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling).
So, of course, Timberlake delivered the goods Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center for a sold-out crowd of about 16,000. For upwards of three hours, he sang! And danced! And smiled! A phalanx of musicians clad in dinner jackets, backup vocalists and dancers accompanied him on a high-tech stage that oozed with retro-futuristic swagger. Everything about the evening screamed: “Justin Timberlake Is A Superstar, Y’all!”
Timberlake’s current tour arrives at a critical time for the former boy bander. The first half of his double album “The 20/20 Experience” was 2013’s biggest-selling record, and it launched a pair of respectable hits with “Suit and Tie” and “Mirrors,” both of which he saved for the end of Sunday’s show. But the second half of “20/20,” released six months later, failed to turn many heads. Even worse, Bruno Mars has stolen a fair amount of his thunder, positioning himself as a younger, smarter and more tuneful Timberlake 2.0. On top of that, Robin Thicke — a fellow showbiz kid even older than Timberlake — snatched away honors for song of the summer with “Blurred Lines.”
While “The 20/20 Experience” doesn’t have a slam-dunk smash, it does boast some slinky, sexy and groove-heavy numbers that translate perfectly to the stage. He opened the evening with “Pusher Love Girl,” coaxing the first of many lustful screams from the crowd. Later, he killed it with “Don’t Hold the Wall,” “Only When I Walk Away” and “That Girl,” the latter earning swoons from the women in the audience.
Sunday’s St. Paul show was Timberlake’s first in seven years, and since he seems to prefer acting to music, it may be another seven years until we see him again. So it sure felt like Timberlake wanted to make it a night to remember. Midway through the night, the entire front lip of the stage — which stretched all the way across the arena floor — lifted up and flew to the back of the X. Once there, JT spent some quality time with the cheap seats and indulged in well-chosen covers from two fellow musical titans, Elvis Presley (“Heartbreak Hotel”) and Michael Jackson (“Human Nature”).
If there was a problem, it was with actually seeing Timberlake himself. For all the glitz and glamour of his stage, it was too dark, with murky purple lights often obscuring the action. When JT swapped out his white jacket for a black one, the shadows threatened to swallow him alive. The giant, textured wall behind the band occasionally showed live footage, but not nearly enough of Timberlake. With tickets topping out around the $200 mark — and scalpers getting much, much higher prices on the resale market — Timberlake’s fans really deserved to see more of him bringing sexy back than they did Sunday night.
Justin Timberlake’s long, ambitious concert falls short
Star Tribune — Justin Timberlake is the most well-rounded talent of his generation — singer, dancer, actor (comedic and dramatic) and entertainer. He could be a permanent cast member of “Saturday Night Live” if he had the time. He could entertain at the Super Bowl halftime show if he hadn’t had a wardrobe malfunction. He could be in the Coen brothers’ stable of actors if he wanted to. But right now he is concentrating on music.
On tour for the first time in seven years, Timberlake, 33, brought his talents back to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night. His many skills were in abundance — the singing, dancing, instrumental chops and showmanship. But everybody needs an editor (or director or producer). His 2 ½-hour marathon seemed to last as long as a dramatic reading of all 10,000 lakes in the state of Minnesota (there is a Timber Lake in Jackson County). There’s no way JT’s elaborate and ambitious presentation would rank in the same league as recent shows by Pink and Bruno Mars.
The opening hourlong set suffered from sameness — same tempos, musical dynamics (he came across as the Michael Buble of hip-hop soul), dance moves (as much Fred Astaire as Michael Jackson) and look (the white tux jacket with black bow tie, shirt and pants, with dancers always flanking Timberlake). The visionary behind this first act must have been the same person who produced Timberlake’s blockbuster “20/20 Experience” album with songs stretching beyond seven minutes (he gave us the dance mixes from the get-go — before anyone wanted them).
The only exciting point in the first segment was after Timberlake introduced guitarist Mike Scott from Minneapolis; the singer broke into a series of one liners from Prince songs, including “Controversy”, “Purple Rain” and “Kiss” and the band tried to get JT to go further. Nah, he only takes chances on stuff he’s rehearsed (see his wonderful bits with Jimmy Fallon).
However, the second, longer set was just about everything the first one wasn’t. Timberlake showed more variety in the first two numbers — the banging “Only When I Walk Away” and “Drink You Away”, a hard blues with horns and vocal harmonies — than he had in the entire first hour. For 80 minutes, Timberlake mostly cut loose, getting funky and having fun. The textures and tempos were varied —and so were the settings.
There was finally the wow moment that 16,000 fans were waiting for — JT and four backup singers soared above the crowd on a hydraulically lifted platform that then traveled over the main floor as they sang “Let the Groove Get In”, Timberlake’s grooviest dance tune in an evening overloaded with groove tunes.
Eventually the platform landed at the back of the arena where JT crooned the smooth-as-Smokey Robinson love song “That Girl” and unimaginative covers of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Jackson’s “Human Nature”. Songs by Kool & the Gang and Bell Biv Devoe kept the party jumping as Timberlake returned to the main stage for two of his biggest hits, “Suit & Tie” and the signature “SexyBack”, which reminded everyone how hot JT can get.
Because for too long Sunday he came across as a Justin of all talents but a master of only one — charisma.
Set I: Pusher Love Girl/ Rock Your Body/ Don’t Hold the Wall/ Future Sex Love Sound/ Like I Love You/ My Love/ TKO/ Summer Love/ LoveStoned/ Until the End of Time/ Cry Me a River (with intro from Holy Grail
Set II: Only When I Walk Away/ Drink You Away/ Tunnel Vision/ Senorita/ Let the Groove Get In/ That Girl/ Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis)/ Human Nature (Michael Jackson)/ What Goes Around…Comes Around/ Cabaret/ Take Back the Night/ Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang)/ Murder/ Poison (Bell Biv Devoe)/ Suit & Tie ENCORE SexyBack/ Mirrors