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Crónica e imágenes: “The Man Of The Woods Tour”, en Milwaukee, 21 de septiembre

El cantante Justin Timberlake actua en el escenario de Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center durante su gira “The Man Of The Woods Tour” el 21 de septiembre, en la ciudad de Milwaukee, WI, EE.UU.

Justin Timberlake toasts his beloved Packers at thrilling Milwaukee show, his first in 15 years

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — A few times Friday night at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, Justin Timberlake turned to his audience and raised his arms up and down in a sign of worship.

Based on the deafening screams, joyful dancing and boisterous singalongs — from the floor up to the top rows — the fans worshiped him right back.

Justin Timberlake performs at the Fiserv Forum.Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But there is something else the superstar and his Milwaukee fans worship.

“You know how much I love the Packers, man!” Timberlake said to one of his bandmates after a fan gave him Packers jerseys — one for Timberlake, the other for his 3-year-old son Silas.

That led to  a toast in which Timberlake held up his glass to “the greatest football team on planet Earth” and a request for the crowd to “Give it to me one time!”

And with that, the fans unleashed a Lambeau-worthy “Go Pack Go!”

Timberlake’s Green and Gold loyalty — the Memphis native has been a fan since the Favre era — practically makes him family in these parts. But aside from the occasional game at Lambeau, Timberlake isn’t in Wisconsin too often.

That made Friday’s show — his first in the state in 15 years — the most electrifying concert event of the year, in terms of the audience’s energy. Fans in the packed house were already on their feet, singing at the top of their lungs during the opening DJ set — a full 20 minutes before Timberlake set foot on stage.

Even the weak material from this year’s “Man of the Woods” album, Timberlake’s creative low point, couldn’t reduce the energy Friday — thanks in large part to the top-notch, 20-plus dancers and musicians and state-of-the-art staging.

Of the eight “Woods” tracks that made it into Friday’s two-hour, 26-song set, only “Montana” legitimately dragged, but that limp rendition was a blip in the grand scheme of things, segueing without a second’s pause into a warm take of “FutureSex”-era hit “Summer Love”.

Show opener and lead “Woods” single “Filthy” was accompanied by a jaw-dropping, arena-encompassing laser and light display, while a sparse, acoustic take on “Morning Light” practically glowed, coming off a “campfire singalong” portion of the show.

Phony as the setup was for that campfire scene — complete with a moon-eyed “videographer” capturing the scene on a Super 8 camera — even that managed to work, thanks to the sincere and impressive pipes of Timberlake’s four backing singers as they took on Fleetwood Mac, Beatles, Lauryn Hill and John Denver songs.

But it was Timberlake’s titanic singles — most performed in Milwaukee for the first time by Timberlake Friday — that were the real crowd-pleasers (aside from the Packers shoutouts, of course).

“Lovestoned” was preceded by a chest-puffing, horn-blaring, foot-shuffling brass band intro — recalling Bruno Mars channeling James Brown on his current “24K Magic” tour — while “Senorita” finished with a dizzying Latin percussion finale, filmed and projected on transparent screens that provided dramatic video backdrops that draped in front of the stage. (The screens never obstructed the action on the stage or runway, but they only came down when the production dictated it.)

“Senorita” kicked off the high point of Friday’s show, a string of five uninterrupted hits that included “Mirrors”, — with Timberlake’s croon shimmering over a full-hearted mass singalong — and “Cry Me a River”, on which Timberlake sang coolly, and effortlessly slipped into some spins and stage slides, over a fog-covered runway.

He teased “My Love” by drawing out elements of the song with a music production controller; then managed to keep up with his slick backing dancers and hit the falsetto notes, with ease when the band took over.

And the Marvin Gaye-inspired “Suit & Tie” was preceded by a dapper routine in which Timberlake and three dancers dodged a swinging mic stand — upstaged a moment later by Timberlake’s stunning solo routine on a center stage surrounded by a rotating, morphing laser display.

“Drink You Away” soared on gospel organ grooves and soulful horns and for “Rock Your Body”, Timberlake came into the pit to groove on a disco floor — while security nervously held onto a dividing rope to keep the surrounding fans at bay.

Unfortunately, Timberlake threw in the towel a little too early, letting the crowd handle most of the vocals and throwing out cheesy “Saturday Night Fever”-style disco moves for show finale “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”

But by then, Timberlake had made his point.

In terms of showmanship and technical awe, Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods” tour is a triumph. And Fiserv Forum, with just its fourth show, has already hosted a concert whose wow factor is going to be pretty hard to top.

THE TAKEAWAYS

  • The Packers weren’t the only Wisconsin team to get some love from Timberlake Friday. He also did a shoutout to the Bucks, and the players he said were watching the show.
  • No appearance from Timberlake’s good buddy Aaron Rodgers Friday. Probably better that he take extra care of that knee anyway.
  • No luck getting a “September” cover either. Timberlake sang the tune for the “Trolls” movie, and Friday happened to be the 40th anniversary of the release of Earth, Wind & Fire’s timeless tune, but alas it didn’t make the set list Friday.
  • Aside from getting some of the best seats in the house, there was another perk for the super fans who paid top dollar to see Timberlake’s show in the pits surrounding the runway and secondary stages — an operating bar.
  • Fiserv Forum hosts up to 18,000 people for a concert, and the arena had about that many people there Friday, with every section opened and filled with people.
  • If the rumors are true, the new $524 million Milwaukee arena will have hosted two consecutive Super Bowl halftime show performers in a six-day span, with this year’s performer Timberlake Friday, and next year’s rumored act, Maroon 5, playing the arena this past Sunday. Not bad for a first month.

THE SET LIST

  1. “Filthy”
  2. “Midnight Summer Jam”
  3. “LoveStoned”
  4. “SexyBack”
  5. “Man of the Woods”
  6. “Higher Higher”
  7. “Senorita”
  8. “Suit & Tie”
  9. “My Love”
  10. “Cry Me a River”
  11. “Mirrors”
  12. “Drink You Away”
  13. “Until The End of Time”
  14. “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac cover)
  15. “Ex-Factor” (Lauryn Hill cover)
  16. “Come Together'” (The Beatles cover)
  17. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (John Denver cover)
  18. “Morning Light”
  19. “What Goes Around…Comes Around”
  20. “Say Something”
  21. “Montana”
  22. “Summer Love”
  23. “Rock Your Body”
  24. “Supplies”
  25. “Like I Love You”
  26. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”

Timberlake a stellar showman even when Fiserv Forum show gets lost in the woods

On Milwaukee — It was the 21st night of September — and not just any 21st night of September, but the 40th anniversary of Earth, Wind & Fire’s jubilant hit, a classic Justin Timberlake has in his portfolio thanks to the soundtrack to his 2016 animated musical “Trolls”. And yet “September” failed to make the pop star’s setlist at Fiserv Forum Friday night. Zero stars. Hit publish.

OK, fine, all is forgiven — a fairly easy task after the pop showman’s dance-filled, technically sophisticated yet effortlessly smooth and charismatic two-hour return to Milwaukee, somehow his first show in Brew City since a joint concert with Christina Aguilera at the Bradley Center in 2003.

While it wasn’t the new arena’s first show, Timberlake’s concert certainly marked Fiserv Forum’s most complicated, extravagant and logistically demanding showcase so far (no offense intended to The Killers). As expected, the most recent Super Bowl halftime show performer brought all sorts of modern bells and whistles to Milwaukee — from a sprawling stage connecting both ends of the arena with a winding pathway complete with a functioning bar against the middle of the stage, to high-tech strobe shows and state-of-the-art screens perfectly choreographed with the action, smoothly sliding up and down out of JT’s way as he skipped and danced across the floor and acknowledged all corners of the packed crowd.

It was the kind of bold-font show you expect from one of the world’s biggest pop stars — and all the while, Fiserv Forum held up, putting on the kind of futuristic concert spectacle you’d have a hard time imagining (and, considering the decade-plus wait for the singer’s return, probably booking) back at the now-closed BMO Harris Bradley Center. And that’s not even including the improved acoustic sound and seat arrangement, which felt much closer to the action thanks to the building’s bowl design.

At some point, Fiserv Forum will lose its buzz and shiny allure, evolving from the fancy new arena into just the arena, no need for mention as its obvious upgrades become the new standard and the sense of discovery walking in turns into regular routine. But that time’s still a ways off — especially after a big-budget show like Friday night that put all of its new advanced capabilities on scintillating display.

Of course, to truly put on an all-caps SHOW, you need an all-caps SHOWMAN to take the stage — and Timberlake certainly still qualifies. Even surrounded by beaming strobes and flashy screens, the pop star — as well as his beloved backing band, The Tennessee Kids — never lost your attention.

Opening up with “Filthy”, Timberlake enlivened the hookless techno-funk number with smooth voice and his slick dance moves, eventually escalating to a charmingly boy-band-esque dance break at the center stage. Even when the setlist went a little slack, Timberlake never did, bounding with energy across the floor, showcasing his full set of performance tools — from a mesmerizing strobe-assisted “microphone-eography” dance break on the addictively brassy, jazzy “Suit and Tie” to busting out the acoustic guitar on “Drink You Away” and “Say Something”, and mixing “My Love” right on stage — and charming the crowd into cheering on even the weakest numbers.

In fact, the night’s most entertaining moments may have come in between hits. During a glorified intermission after the soulful anthem “Mirrors”, Timberlake took some time to catch his breathe with the Tennessee Kids at center stage — and catch up with folks in the crowd. Far beyond the usual “thank yous” (though he had plenty of those to pass around throughout the night, as well as some “We’re not worthy” bows to the raucous audience), he first snagged a pair of Packers jerseys as gifts from a duo in the crowd — one for him, the other for his son, Silas — inspiring a loud “Go Pack Go” chant. He also gave the Bucks a shoutout (according to Twitter, he dropped by to say hi to Giannis) but don’t tell the Memphis Grizzlies, the hometown team he owns a minority stake in.

OK, sure, anyone can get a Wisconsin crowd to cheer the Pack and roar with delight at being called cheeseheads, but then Timberlake kept the variety hour conversation going, chatting with the two women, complimenting their baby sizing knowledge and joking about the Timberlake clan’s sensitive skin before asking the crowd if he could share a drink with them, grabbing a tray of shots for himself and the back-up band leading into, fittingly, “Drink You Away”. Pop music is a fickle business, but Timberlake’s smooth, personable comedy and performance skills — as light-footed as his footwork — will always make him a commodity through thick and thin.

As for the thin, Friday night was indeed a stop on Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods” tour, which unfortunately meant he had to play a decent amount off “Man of the Woods” — eight of the 26 songs, though four of those numbers were solos showcases for his backup singers, so the album made up more a third of the concert. And while some of the tracks are enjoyable — “Drink You Away” and “Say Something” are the rare few that seem committed to the album’s supposed raw, country-infused concept — most are at best forgettable toss-aways.

The songs aren’t even the biggest problem with “Man of the Woods”; it’s the confused, half-committed aesthetic, a veneer of authenticity, realness and nature that goes as deep as wearing flannel. What’s a futuro-funk tune like “Filthy” doing dancing through the stage’s scattered trees, or the nocturnal jazz groove of “Montana” matching up with images of buffalo — other than in name only? Or even just Justin slinking around to “SexyBack” in a Western-esque fringe-covered jacket? It’s confused, and the pieces don’t quite fit, leaving the idea of a raw, contemplative man in the wilderness … but who maybe stayed at the Super 8 instead of the cabin.

In the first half, Timberlake was able to chug through his dips into “Man of the Woods” with his high energy plus a helpful scattering of past hits like the kinky “SexyBack” and the spicy, sultry “Señorita”, complete with a drum battle and rotating platforms.

The second half of the show, however, started with a “Woods”-inspired extended campfire hangout that felt more like the Gap fall collection photoshoot version of “nature” and “authenticity” than anything natural or authentic, an Instagram filter of age and grain on the photo (fitting considering the Super 8 camera rolling on the singers, giving the segment a “community theater ‘Rent’ performance” vibe). And while the intention was nice — tilting the spotlight over to his talented backup singers, all with impressive pipes of their own — the night had to put in some work after to recover the energy, a task the following “Man of the Woods” tracks “Morning Light”, “Montana”, “Supplies” and even a somewhat stripped-down version of “What Goes Around … Comes Around” weren’t quite up to.

Luckily, energy is in high supply when you’ve got hits like “Summer Love” and “Rock Your Body” to rely on — the latter coming with a brief jaunt into the crowd for a disco-floor dance number that was pretty nifty, even if it was hard to see much of anything behind the standing room crowd. And there’s no way even the most jaded critic (hello!) can resist dancing back to their car after closing the night out on the buoyant bliss of “Can’t Fight the Feeling!”

With a parade of hits like those, even with the occasional speed bump, Timberlake’s long-awaited return to Milwaukee gave his fans a 21st night of September to remember — even without Earth, Wind & Fire’s help.

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