Aside from the fact that only the smallest fraction of the fan base is able
to score tickets, the downside of the pre-tour, buzz-building club jaunt
that many pop superstars do these days is that a successful gig in an
intimate, fine-sounding venue can make the big, booming stadium show that
follows seem like a major letdown.
When Justin Timberlake celebrated the release of his second solo album
“Future Sex/Love Sounds” late last summer, his hot, sweaty,
up-close-and-personal appearance at Chicago’s House of Blues amplified the
best aspects of his now 3-million-selling dance-pop epic: its Timbaland-produced,
genre-hopping invention; its relative class and sophistication (which are
amplified by JT’s current fashion fixation on Sinatra in the ’40s) and its
That show was live, not Memorex, and Timberlake concentrated on the music
and gave it his all, despite an essentially limited voice, while leading a
kicking 11-piece band.
On Monday, the 26-year-old singer brought the big band, the retro duds
and sexy back again when his major national tour pulled into a sold-out
Allstate Arena, the first of a two-night stand. He also brought a bevy of
dancers, some fancy scrims that served as video projection screens and a
high-tech, in-the-round stage set in the middle of the floor.
But something was missing.
Timberlake tried to retain some of the smaller, more genuine musical
gestures from the club tour. Most notably, he delivered several songs while
strumming an acoustic guitar or sitting behind an upright piano. (The best
of these: the oddly psychedelic/symphonic suite, “What Goes Around.”) But
too much of the time, he was playing peek-a-boo behind the scrims, building
anticipation for the moments when he’d run around his round stage, allowing
his legions of mostly female fans to admire him.
In the cavernous expanse of the enormodome, the quietest and most complex
songs from the last album were lost in the backwash of booming bass, and
much of the rest of the set just seemed like the backing track for a
sublimely professional, intricately pre-programmed and pristinely
Given that it wasn’t all that long ago that the JT was a teenager flying
over Soldier Field on a guide wire as part of ’N Sync’s super-spectacle, I
suppose the more mature theatrics Monday were an improvement. But the
two-hours-plus show still seemed overblown at some points and deflated at
others — not the least of which was Timbaland’s dragging, cliche-ridden
20-minute solo behind the wheels of steel.
On the new album and at the House of Blues, Timberlake proved that he is
capable of much better, and I’m fan enough to expect it from him.
Opening the show was the one-time realest of any of the teen-pop divas,
Pink. But the sad detour that the former Alecia Moore took toward bloated
self-importance on her fourth album “I’m Not Dead” continued on stage.
Flanked by two female dancers and dressed to match in prime
street-walker/“Coyote Ugly” couture, Pink — who used to be this genre’s
feminist role model — was at her best when she was rocking hardest, deriding
“Stupid Girls” or just trying to get the party started. But dreadful schlock
such as her weepy broken-home ballads and the oh-so earnest acoustic protest
song “Dear Mr. President” were simply unbearable.
The literal high point of the set came when Pink took a page from Cirque
du Soleil and acrobatically twirled high above the crowd on a twisting pink
ribbon. Alas, like so much of the night, it had nothing whatsoever to do
with good music.