Justin Timberlake at Toyota Center, 12/5/2013

Justin Timberlake Toyota Center December 5, 2013

In a few years, people will write about pop music between the years 2007 and 2012 and talk about how worse off it was because Justin Timberlake wasn't an full-time musical force. This will be revisionist history -- pop music is ultimately bigger than any one person -- but it'll feel true because of how much Timberlake has done in 2013 to remind us just how talented he is.

As if to seal the deal on his musical comeback, he's hit the road for a fall tour that is less a concert and more a three-hour extravaganza. In anyone else's hands, you'd suspect this was all just a test run for the eventual Vegas show, but on Thursday night it felt more like a wakeup call about who the biggest pop star in the world is, when he chooses to be.

When you're as talented (not to mention charming) as Timberlake, you can do that sort of thing without coming off like an ass.

Imagine your standard pop show and all the props and effects that come with it. Justin has those too.

Does he soar above the crowd? Of course, on the largest bit of movable stage you've ever seen. Does he have a fancy video wall? Absolutely, on par with what Roger Waters was dragging around with The Wall. Excellent backup dancers and a talented backup band? His dancers have some serious moves and the Tennessee Kids are killers. Everyone onstage is tremendously talented, on at all times as if the spotlight was on them the whole show.

It is almost unfortunate then that it's really hard to pull your eyes away from Timberlake. You can't help but watch him as he moves across the stage. Sometime it's natural charisma that draws the eye. Sometimes it's just trying to peak through the magic to try and figure out what makes him so good.

The show is long, and unless you're a diehard fan you run a serious risk of too much of a good thing. The first hour of the show slays -- the anticipation of him taking the stage, getting to hear new songs live for the first time, and then the hits; it's a lot to take in but it's crazy exciting. From his opener "Pusher Love Girl" on through to Set 1-closing "Cry Me a River" (with a little bit of "Holy Grail" and "Tom Ford" for good measure) the man could do no wrong. That includes an epic version of "My Love" that made the show worth it right then and there.

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The second act was a bit slower, less for the radio fans and more for the true believers. And if you could get through the American Horror Story-esque visuals for "True Blood," Timberlake strapping a guitar to his chest for a few numbers, and covers of Elvis and Michael Jackson, you were rewarded with the big singles: "Suit & Tie"; "Sexyback"; "Mirrors." It's real hard to be disappointed in that run of songs, no matter how tired you are.

Because of his choice of covers, it's easy to point out the obvious line of male pop icons that starts with Mr. Presley, goes through Mr. Jackson, and arrives at Mr. Timberlake. But that's easy, and that's what he wants you to think.

Who he actually reminds me of is Rick James, or at least Rick James as played by Dave Chappelle. He's the best-singing, best-looking, best-dancing man around. If you were to build a pop star from the ground up he's very likely what you would end up with.

At least, that is, when he wants to be that guy.

Personal Bias: I've always been mildly ambivalent to Timberlake's output -- I still haven't listened to all of either of the The 20/20 Experience records -- but I do believe that "Blue Ocean Floor" is a minor masterpiece.

The Crowd: A little bit of everything, all united in their love of their returned hero, all with their own regrets tomorrow. Be it alcohol or screaming your lungs out, sometimes in the moment you just push yourself too far.

Overhead In the Crowd: "I can't hide my stuff," said one lady to a complete stranger she asked to snap her photo. I didn't look back to see what stuff she couldn't hide, but I'm sure she's just being hard on herself.

Random Notebook Dump: A drunk girl trying to steady herself groped my chest as well as my +1's. She then proceeded to get lost, have someone escort her back to her seat, and then fall asleep during the show. I hope the $200 she spent was worth it -- she seemed real nice minus the unintentional grope.


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