Justin Timberlake takes a shot and scores at the Moda Center
Oregon Live — There is no bigger celebrity working in music right now than Justin Timberlake, not even Taylor Swift, and the singer knew it on Thursday night. The Memphis-bred former teen idol, now bearded and of handsomely furrowed brow, spent the first half of his lengthy Moda Center show lapping up love from an audience near-ready to faint.
“I can’t breathe!” one woman screamed as his shadow touched the stage. The music hadn’t yet begun. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Later, Timberlake would enter the audience to find two fans celebrating 30th birthdays, their torches no doubt carried all the way from teenage days of watching *NSYNC on “Total Request Live”. The singer, ever the gentleman, ordered the first a shot of tequila from the arena-floor bar before downing one himself.
Backed by his 15-piece band, the Tennessee Kids; and a handful of dancers who came and went, the night’s first 70 minutes were a messy whirl. The band’s sound could be overwhelming in the big room, and the visuals behind them, including odd footage that seemed borrowed from a “Spider-Man” credits sequence and a shot of CGI leopards, was distracting. Timberlake had enough backing singers to skip the usual pop pretense of singing during every dance move, and watching him in action was enough — his constant pleas for the crowd to fill in the chorus for him were another matter. They did, repeatedly: as he ran up the stage stairs from one side of the crowd into another, the show felt like watching the world’s most talented wedding DJ work a room.
But the weaknesses of the first set evaporated after a 10-minute intermission: this was Timberlake’s first show back after a tour break, and it seemed he’d needed a warm-up. Suddenly, we had laser shows, covers, sharp choreography and thrilling falsetto, much of this delivered as a strip of stage separated and floated forward over the room with him on it — the arena-show necessity of 2014.
Timberlake’s two “The 20/20 Experience” volumes double as a look at his influences, from the Michael Jackson homage of “Take Back the Night” to the Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine horns that pump through “Let the Groove Get In”, and it was illuminating to hear him stretch into other artists’ songs live. Timberlake tipped his hat with a few “oh-way-oh-way’s”, the opening call of Estefan’s “Rhythm Is Gonna to Get You”, and did more extensive covers of hometown hero Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Jackson’s “Human Nature”. Other nods came from nowhere — a few lines of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a detour into Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” — and perhaps a more thorough medley would’ve been a better home for them.
It seemed like Timberlake wanted a little bit of everything, including effective enough turns behind guitars and keyboards, and the set’s ambition came into increasing focus as the night wore on and the singer’s stored-up energy found release. After two hours, there were still hits to play: “Suit & Tie”, “SexyBack” and “Mirrors” came in one impressive row. Timberlake’s not the King of Pop (or Rock and Roll, for that matter) just yet, but on Thursday, he delivered his adoring crowd a royal treatment.
Justin Timberlake swooned Portland with the 20/20 Experience Thursday night
Daily Emerald — Almost 20,000 Portlanders gathered at the Moda Center for Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Thursday night, including someone who was not as excited as she should have been: me.
I was a little underprepared and hadn’t heard any of his new stuff. Nor did I have very high expectations from him musically.
My love for JT peaked in 2006 when “What Goes Around Comes Around” was playing on the radio — granted it started in 2000 when N Sync released their album No Strings Attached. We had a good run, but my taste in music has since changed. Still, I was feeling nostalgic.
My mom and I showed up in our pink dresses ready to embrace our “basic” side, and “basic” it was: After standing in the drink line for ten minutes, I was informed by a very irritated bartender, “We’re out of cranberry juice”. I told him I was actually going to order an IPA, before quickly changing my mind. “Pineapple juice and vodka, please”.
I was ready to fulfill my preteen dream.
The arena went black, queuing screams from the audience that didn’t stop for the next couple hours. I didn’t think anything could be louder, until silhouettes of an orchestra projected on the stage as the instruments blared a dramatic buildup, the intro of his song “Pusher Love Girl”.
Then, the silhouette we’ve all been waiting for, nonchalantly rolling up the sleeves of his tux like 20,000 people weren’t watching him. If one thing’s for sure, Timberlake knows foreplay. He continued to tease us in shadow form for several minutes before making his grand entrance.
Lights and lasers beamed from the stage, flickering and dancing to the music, while creepy shadow figures moved across the backdrop, which resembled a puzzle of oversized pixels. There were dancers, backup singers and moving platforms on the stage. He continued to ask us to sing the chorus of songs I didn’t know.
From 300 feet away, I was unimpressed. I questioned whether it was really him up there. But not for long.
Timberlake prevailed, impressing and entrancing us with his performance. His vocals and dance moves were flawless, rich and sexy. He moonwalked, he rapped, he played the guitar and the piano. There were undertones of R&B, jazz, country, electronic. Songs that were new and old.
About halfway through the show, he serenaded us with his rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Heart Break Hotel” — a little tip of the hat to his hometown, Memphis. He nailed it.
I wondered out loud, “Justin, is there anything you can’t do?”
And as if we weren’t already hooked, his platform glided over everyone’s head, bringing him closer to those in the back. He spent a few minutes interacting with the audience, even buying someone a tequila shot before downing his own.
About 30 feet away from him at this point, I let myself go. I ditched my mom and ran to the front row with everyone else. I lost my voice. Even the guy next to me said, “Oh my god, he’s right there!!”
Overall, my expectations were exceeded. My love for Justin Timberlake has been restored and if it weren’t so overpriced, I would go again in a heartbeat.
Justin Timberlake: Bringing Classy Back
Portland Monthly Mag — Timberlake proved himself the heir of not just MJ, but Sinatra, in a production that included a transforming set and 20,000 screaming fans. To say Justin Timberlake brought the sold-out audience to its feet last night at the Moda Center for the kick off of the fall leg of his tour would be a misnomer. The audience never sat down. Not even when Timberlake himself took a seat to sing “Until the End of Time” at a pearl white grand piano that rose out of the floor (yes, just one of many surprises to rise from the floor).
The 20/20 Experience World Tour concert was just that: an experience. A full sensory experience. From the opening of the first song, “Pusher Love Girl”, when the swell of strings filled the arena and silhouettes of tuxedoed musicians were projected onto the giant honeycomb backdrop, it was clear that Timberlake was going for more than another pyrotechnic-clogged spectacle.
Rising from a trapdoor, he swept into the first verse on an empty stage, his falsetto swirling around the arena. From the get-go, his demeanor for the night was more suave, less swagger. While the influence of Michael Jackson seeped through many a dance move and falsetto shout, Timberlake’s crooning and cool charisma felt just as much a modern twist on Frank Sinatra, an update to the Rat Pack.
Then the 13-part band, the Tennessee Kids, rose from their own trapdoors, reinforcing the classiness of the night with their black and white mash-ups of formal and street wear—tux jackets mixed with t-shirts and trousers that sinched around the ankles—designed by Neil Barrett (Tom Ford designed suits for the first half of the tour).
But even more, the full band added a depth and soul to songs that could have easily relied on electronic samples and synths, lifting them from produced pop tracks to full orchestrations with four horns, four backup singers, and a guitar, bass, and percussion (there was even a tuba for the closing encore, “Mirrors”). The effect was downright contagious on dancefloor hits like “Rock Your Body”, “Sexy Back”, and a mean cover of “That Girl Is Poison”, and it also channeled some of the Tennessee blues that lends the band its name for instrument-driven jams like “Drink You Away”.
Timberlake himself took to piano and guitar multiple times, displaying a fluency that allowed him to nonchalantly channel a little of the King with a cover of “Heartbreak Hotel”, instead of looking like a pop star straining to convince us of his musicianship (here’s looking at you, Madge).
Indeed, it’s testament to Timberlake’s musicianship and charisma that he wasn’t upstaged by the stage itself, which consisted of multiple trapdoors and the honeycomb backdrop that functioned as a screen for a cornucopia of live projections and produced videos (the highlight of which was a black-and-white video of Timberlake and his dancers in tuxes dancing at what looked like the Hollywood Bowl in time to their dancing on stage), but also hid a battery of lights and lasers that would occasionally shine through.
The lights and projections, though, paled in comparison to the section of the stage that, to the drums of “Let the Groove Get In”, began to rise up, spanning the width of the arena and ending in staircases that rose about the first section of seats. Then it began to roll across the arena, Timberlake and his singers literally hanging and dancing above the audience (see the videos below). It stopped on the other side, where they filed down a set of stairs to perform a number of slower songs on three small catwalks for the audience at the back of the room, before returning to the main stage to a rousing version of “Take Back the Night” as lights bathed the entire arena in multi-colored hues.
Dave Holmes, who supervises the Moda Center’s conversion from one setup to another (say concert to Blazer game), told PoMo reporter Marty Smith that the production required 33 trucks to deliver the stage and lights and 150 local crew plus 30 roadies to assemble it, adding that it’s the biggest show to come through Portland other than Lady Gaga.
Image: Arthur Hitchcock
Which is to say, Timberlake literally sang and danced himself across the Moda Center, treating the audience with a generosity that made it feel like he was singing to each and every one. While on the catwalk at the back of the floor, someone handed him a shot. He raised it to the crowd, saying: “I never tell a lie: this is one of the craziest crowds we’ve ever had”. Then he threw the shot back, hailed the Tennessee Kids, grabbed his guitar, and started into “Heartbreak Hotel”, a single spotlight illuminating him in a sea of 20,000 screaming fans.
I never had the fortune to see MJ, Elvis, or Sinatra. But I’m pretty certain I just saw the current King of Pop. Long may he reign.
Justin Timberlake at Moda Center, 11/20
Wweek — It’s easy to forget how long Justin Timberlake has been famous. Even though I’m well aware that he shed the boy-band image more than a decade ago, until last night part of me imagined his shows were still filled with a sea of teenage girls screaming themselves hoarse. There was plenty of screaming happening at the Moda Center, but the sources were varied. There was the scrawny 16-year-old kid in the suit and bowtie. There was the burly dude on crutches, who became the subject of onstage patter. There were the couples dressed like they were going to see Tony Bennett at the Schnitz. There were Blazers. Ages ranged from prepubescent to cougar, though the mean demographic skewed toward “old enough to get really excited over a Bel Biv DeVoe cover”. An entire generation can legitimately claim to have grown up listening to Justin Timberlake, something Timberlake himself acknowledged off-handedly, quipping “I’m getting too old for this shit” as if he were a singing, dancing Roger Murtaugh.
Indeed, Timberlake is an A-list pop icon and all-around celebrity whose star is not dependent upon album-cycle hype. Still, JT hit Portland pretty late this time around. The final installment of The 20/20 Experience, the two-part album for which his current tour is named, came out last September. He’s already done this show around the world, and is essentially batting cleanup now. That means we got an exceptionally well-oiled production, delivered by a consummate entertainer. It also couldn’t help but feel a little stale.
Don’t get me wrong: Despite confessing to feeling the drain of a two-and-a-half hour performance when he was only halfway through, the 33-year-old Timberlake isn’t actually Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, just biding his time until he can retire from the road and go home to Jessica Biel. His voice was crisp, his dancing smooth, his soul-orchestra backing band sharp, and nary a hit was left off the setlist, whether it belonged to him or someone else (in addition to BBD’s “Poison”, he also covered “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Jungle Boogie” and, ballsiest of all, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”).
But with any arena show, I want one of two things: for the artist to either shrink the room or use its caverns to deliver a total, balls-out spectacle, preferably with giant inflatable poop emoji. Instead, Timberlake gave us a show that was big but not outsized, personable but not intimate. He emerged in shadow against a honeycombed backdrop before his band, the Tennessee Kids, rose out of the stage floor, and it was one of only a few fleeting moments when he was ever truly alone up there. Even when the front of the stage lifted off the ground, detached and floated to the other side of the arena, depositing him at a small platform with an acoustic guitar for the requisite “stripped-down, in-the-round mini-set”, he was flanked by backing singers and dancers and other musicians who made the trip with him. And while it might sound odd to say that a show featuring a floating stage was not a spectacle, Timberlake’s current mode is suave sophistication, which means monochrome color palettes, projections of artfully nude women and no giant emoji, fecal or otherwise. Even the lasers were tasteful.
Basically, it was a show befitting his stature, and entering this final lap of the tour, he wasn’t going to downscale nor blow things up. But even when going through the motions, the motions were still pretty impressive. And though the majority of us never got that one-on-one (or one-on-20,000) moment, at least two fans got to share a tequila shot with him. Both were celebrating 30th birthdays, which means they’ve probably been dreaming of that shot for half their lives. I’m sure they’d say it was worth the wait.