Justin Timberlake: Bringing Classy Back
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.
More than bringing sexy back, he brought classy back.
Number of transforming sky-bridges: 1
Number of band members and dancers: 19
Number of trucks required to move the stage from city to city: 33
The Justin Timberlake 20/20 World Tour Experience: Priceless
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.
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.
"My Love" — As Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson knew, nothing like white on the feet to pull the eye to fancy dancing.
The stage rolled across the stage as lights bathed the entire arena in color for "Take Back the Night."