Justin Timberlake Goes Through The Motions
More like FutureSucks/Love...No
I don't remember what I was expecting from JT's HBO concert special tonight, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't this. Quibbles:
1. Hair metal guitar solo was cute at the end of "FutureSex/LoveSounds," but not at the end of every single damn song
2. No shots of said soloist because there were too many damn shots of JT playing an instrument. Christ, we get it already, you're a legitmate musician. Now do what we paid you for and dance...
3. ...or sing. On how many did he cede the best parts (the hooks) to his bored-looking backups?
4. But he did do plenty of talking. I wanted to kill myself during one intro where he did a big ol' itssogoodtobehereatmadisonsquaregarden dealie. But it didn't stop there: had to get his 21 on and do a shot with everyone in the band onstage. Only it backfired and he scrunched up his face and gagged "get this out of my face" under his breath, chasing it with some bottled water. He didn't look ready to steal beers from his dad's private stash, much less collaborate with Three 6 Mafia.
Timberlake's stage presence is tediously, tediously awkward. I wanted to compare him to Prince, but even his moments of documented cleverness ("Senorita," "Like I Love You") sounded only half as professional as they do in their tightly mechanized recorded versions. His all-black backing band serves a weird function for him; He wants the credibility of the R&B audience, but he didn't write the other players enough parts to establish anything other than, at best, a joyous mess. The backup singers were mostly buried, and a lot of those parts he DAT'd right from the CD anyway. I get this idea that he really, really does fake that accent. The best moment of what I watched (I cut out after "Rock Your Body" began the second set), was a synchronized keytar dance with two sidemen on "Sexy Ladies," the most Prince-ly jam of the night (Mom, looking up from her computer: "What kind of music is this? Is this world music?"). It was closer to The Time. But by the time Timbaland came out to do "Chop Me Up" (Mom: "This sounds like something from a Broadway musical"), I was already bored to tears and that was before the (natch) dueling beatboxes ending.
I don't know what I was expecting him to do, honestly. "What Goes Around" on piano, like at the Grammys makes sense, and so does "My Love" with a power-ballad intro. I should've expected he'd learned the three chords of "Like I Love You" himself, too. I just know Prince or Janet Jackson at the peak of their critical and commcercial powers would've done everything I expected and a lot more. There's something winning about the stiffness of LoveSounds' electronic muscle that Timberlake obviously wanted to destroy completely onstage with his barrage of live-ness. But he seemed way too impressed with his own ability to switch from piano to guitar and whatnot. Maybe he really just wishes he was a singer-songwriter. It's possible I missed a dynamite finish with "LoveStoned" and "SexyBack" and "Cry Me A River," and maybe even "Give It To Me," but that first set was putting me to sleep and I really couldn't take any more interview breaks shot in arty black and white. He didn't look very in control of his stage or his songs, but like a kid zealous to win a talent show or trying on his dad's clothes. Which is disappointing coming from a great singles artist who finally made the transition to solid album artist. Maybe next time out he'll work the transition to stage artist.