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Justin Timberlake At The Izod Center, Saturday, November 9th, 2013, Reviewed

sick about it

The first 10 minutes of Justun Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience Tour” at Izod Center Saturday night were all of the Part One opening track  “Pusher Love Girl”, a somewhat tasteless metaphor pushed to the edge of the dancefloor as JT floated like a butterfly (but didn’t sting like a bee) across the stage and the light show, like if the Experience was more Pink Floyd, flooded the arena with micro synchronized waves of light. It’s high tech disco beats for all and you feel exhausted though Justin is just warming up, he claims, before not even segueing really, just moving off a beat to the largely irrelevant Part Two “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want), a drum pattern in search of a song whose moodiness points to opener The Weeknd’s post-r&b r&B, but is much better live, It thumps. It thudders. And Justin with that calm self assurance, like he has completed his morph into the Sean Parker character in “The Social Network” -you know the one at the lunch. all Chocolate Martinis and gimme the checks, shows off the best moves since, if not a name my partner for the night Paula Iwamoto-Schaap had conjured, Michael Jackson, surely Usher.

25 minutes later this seamless reached its zenith, and its zenith was just about as high as pop goes in 2013, a “Future Sex/Love Song” with Justin extolling us to sing the hook before singing the bridge himself.

But he played it better in 2007.

Timberlake was excellent at Izod, the lack of emotional intensity that hurt him at Yankee Stadium where he was trying to connect with 40,000 fans who were being schooled in pop by Jay Z, didn’t matter at Izod. His seamless, well tux’d, too cool to let you see him sweat, nonstop pop moves, didn’t really need it. But in 2007  Justin had the soul anyway and in 2013 he has no option but to skim his soul.

That’s not the only reason 2007 Timberlake was better, the other reason is his material isn’t as good any more. For stretches of the IZOD show the song just isn’t up to the production, he opens the second half with “Only When I Walk Away” “True Blood” “Drink You Away” and “Tunnel Vision”, and “Drink You Away” given a smashing rockabout rockabilly take, doesn’t save the four song Part 2 chunk.  A huge mistake that I’m guessing Justin will fix by the time he is back at MSG in February.

These are not minor missteps on a set so fully programmed, they are the difference between great and greatest. Between Usher and Michael Jackson. Later on, a bridge lifts off from the stage to mid auditorium and JT with four backing sings perform right in the heart of the audience. JT intersperses “Human Nature” with “What Goes’ Round… Comes Round”, a great idea but again, Justin, training the full force of his falsetto right above his singers, can’t dig deep enough. Maybe he is too damn happy.

I am not picking here. It was a great set, a brilliant pop explosion but Justin seems to be singing his damn remixes, the material isn’t consistently great, and while his backing band The Tennessee Kids are all that, especially the brass section, and between them they sure do save iffy material, why do they have to save anything?

Justin has had a strange year and has made the biggest mistakes in his career. The 22 song cycle songs were too much and when they sank, they sank without a trace (Part 2 has disappeared off the charts), iffy at Yankee Stadium, excellent at the VMAs where he played a 15 minute retrospective including a reunion with NSYNC, he splits the difference here but he could have had one of his greatest achievements ever.

JT is a smart cookie but the entire 2013 Experience is something like a defendant who represents himself has a fool for a client. He needs a producer to hold him back from his own dance jam instincts. Justin might get away with MJ but he sure as hell is no Prince and his biggest weaknesses Saturday night were a lack of funk on funk workouts and a lack of soul on soul songs. At pop, disco, and EDM, given the right material, JT is as good as it gets, but on his excellent ballad, a song I was waiting to hear all night away from the dumbass hidden track that stops you putting it on repeat, “Not A Bad Thing”, he misses it by that much and much earlier, a complete knockout in 2007, “Summer Love” is a disappointment here. It is like the deeper he goes, the less it gets. The problem with “Summer Love” is, however, fixable, kill off the a capella intro.

Look at it this way: when you are covering alternative Memphis boy Elvis Presley (an atrocious  “Heartbreak Hotel”) and following it with Michael Jackson, you are intentionally making a point about where you stand in the rock and roll firmament and to put yourself on the shoulder of giants you have to have style and soul, you have to dig very deep, and you can not afford stupid mistakes.

In 2007, Justin released his best album and followed it with a tour I caught twice including the set filmed for HBO. At the same I considered Timberlake the heir apparent to MJ’s throne but he pursued an acting career and only popped up here and there on television. Abdicated? I don’t think that was it, JT wanted to be Brad Pit though he looked more like Jonathan Schwartzman and he didn’t pull it off completely. He didn’t become the Justin Timberlake of movie stars.  The return to pop music in 2013 started off great but derailed a little. By human standards, despite the weakness of too many tracks and parts of his live show, he did a pretty credible job. But when you are playing in these leagues pretty credible won’t cut it. JT? Great? Yes. Greatest? Nah,  in hindsight that experience has passed him by.

Grade: A-

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