Justin Timberlake Hasn't Lost a Step, He Just Doesn't Take as Many to Entertain

Justin Timberlake in his more laid back version.
Justin Timberlake in his more laid back version. Photo by Jack Gormon
Justin Timberlake
Toyota Center
January 22, 2K19

Most shows that take place in the Toyota Center feature a certain level of intensity. It might be quiet or wild, but it’s there in the performance of anyone big enough to play basketball arenas. Most artists understand that achievement, and by and large they take putting on a major production seriously. Sure, they’ll have fun up on stage, but it’s still work.

Justin Timberlake lacked anything approaching intensity, instead projecting an aura of quiet confidence and goofy charm. No longer the young man trying to prove himself as an artist or a quest to maintain his relevance in a changing music scene, this Timberlake is relaxed with not just his body of work but how he approaches performing it. He’s entered that stage where he’s leaning on his backup singers more and more and the choreography occasionally gets skipped so he can show off his best dad dancing, but for someone who has been part of the cultural conversation as long as Timberlake it works.

That’s not to say that the show felt like Timberlake was phoning it in. In fact, it was a real testament to his abilities as a showman that he can thrill a crowd with his less is more approach. Something as simple as standing in front of a microphone seems somehow more epic when Timberlake, flanked by his dancers and under tasteful lighting, does it, milking the moment of anticipation for all it’s worth.

click to enlarge
Justin Timberlake still has some steps.
Photo by Jack Gormon
The show was also a reminder of just how strong his catalog remains. “SexyBack” shows up early in the show, but that beat with that chord progression is never unwelcome, and as long as Timberlake takes the stage, there will always be those ready to sing along. His brief live remixing of “My Love” was also a highlight, coming in the middle of a greatest hits run that showed off his staying power.

It’s such an interesting time in pop music for men. We’ve entered a golden age of sorts, with Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles, to name a few all out there putting out either incredible records or amazing live performances. But Timberlake is the elder statesman, the guy who was entertaining the masses before stardom was even a glint in the other singer’s eyes. And if wants to slow it down a step, no matter; the man knows what he’s doing, even when he’s taking things just a little bit easier.

So, How Was the Opener?: I understand that the most valuable thing, aside from exposure, that opening acts on these big arena tours get is time on stage to try and win over apathetic crowds, but for all his obvious talents, Francesco Yates probably would have been better served with a shorter set. His modern take on pre-Thriller Michael Jackson-style makes for some fine enough tunes, but he’s still in that “trying too hard to be cool” phase of his career. Would be curious to see what size venue he’d pack if he came back solo.

Personal Bias: While I’m not a fan of Man of the Woods, I will confess that I do think that “Say Something” was one of the better songs of 2018 and further proof that Chris Stapleton elevates everyone he works with.

The Crowd: To my slight surprise, they popped more when the preshow DJ played a Selena jam than when he dropped “Sicko Mode.”

Overheard in the Crowd: “Justin, get your ass out here,” said an older gentleman behind me, not happy about the main set’s late starting time. The gap between opener and headliner was a little ridiculous considering they weren’t set up on the same stage.

Random Notebook Dump: Reminder to all my DJs turned hype people out there: if you’re going to play “Big Pimpin’” it’s against the law to cut the song off before Pimp C’s verse is over. That sacred text should be our state anthem.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia