Justin Timberlake is one of the top entertainers of our time. And he reinforced that statement with a recent concert stop in my neck “of the woods”, Albany, NY, on his latest “Man of the Woods” tour.
Tickets said the show would start at 7:30 but wouldn’t get over until 11:00. That made me a little suspicious going in because, while Timberlake has an extensive catalog of songs, I don’t think he could do three and a half hours straight. Turns out a DJ got the crowd pumped, followed by the warm-up act of up and coming singer Francesco Yates (of the song “Sugar”).
So JT and his band, The Tennessee Kids, didn’t actually hit the stage until 9:00. By 10:56, they were out. In between was a show packed with energy, lights, dance moves and several opportunities for Timberlake to (as he also asked the audience to do) “Shake Your Ass”.
Yes, a couple JT booty shots to the camera made 25-year-old women seated near me giggle out loud. But Timberlake is just playing to his strengths… of making 25-year-old women swoon.
But they’re not his only target audience. Timberlake is one of the rare artists working today who actually attracts EVERYONE: young couples, 40-50 year olds who were into N’SYNC in its heyday, those even older who grew-up with him on “The Mickey Mouse Club”… and kids. A number of parents were holding little ones in their arms throughout the night (even as JT spewed-out a half-dozen F-bombs).
That’s all thanks to “Trolls”. It’s no surprise that Timberlake closed this performance with “Can’t Stop the Feeling” – a song that has probably done more for his career (positively) than anything else. It earned him an Academy Award nomination and a Grammy win. It’s also helped launch a franchise that has already spawned a TV holiday special, a pop-up exhibit set to open in NYC this week and a sequel (“Trolls World Tour”) out in 2020. And it’s an infectious anthem that anyone of any age can just smile, laugh and dance along to – and we’ve all been doing that for the past two and a half years.
Like his Super Bowl Halftime performance earlier this year, Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods” show is a variety package of retro and current JT. He includes “Suit & Tie”, “Drink You Away” and “Mirrors”, featured prominently on his last, “20/20 Experience” tour and in the 2016 Netflix concert documentary “Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids”, directed by the late Jonathan Demme. Songs from the “Woods” album are also featured, accompanied by stage visuals including grass and a campfire.
Slick, thin sheet video screens rose down from the ceiling and back up throughout the evening. At about the halfway mark, Timberlake gave a shout-out to a special member of the audience and even revealed the gender of a couple’s baby. He also took selfies with various people in the standing room only pit area during two songs.
At times, I wish JT sung more of the lyrics to some of his hits. He often asked the audience to do it for him so he could run and twirl the microphone stand around a bit. But when you get to be one of the biggest stars in the world, you can basically do whatever you want. He has to play to the audience, and “Man of the Woods” is not necessarily a singing showcase, but an overall entertainment experience. A few original videos were shown at various points to accompany the tone of the songs, and JT allowed his Tennessee Kids to performs solos around that campfire.
When I met him at the Critics Choice Awards in 2016, Timberlake seemed like a class act, and I could feel that again watching him during this performance. He’s confident without coming-off as cocky. He’s got a swagger that doesn’t cross over the egotistical line. His career keeps moving in the right direction, and it seems like this will be far from his final tour.
But Timberlake will soon have to answer a question that’s probably been on his mind for a while: can any “Trolls 2” tune top “Can’t Stop”?
LCJ RATING: A-