“OK, let’s get one thing straight. We owe the City of Buffalo. So tonight we gonna give it to ya.”
One song into his twin-set performance at First Niagara Center on Wednesday, Justin Timberlake addressed the situation surrounding his cancellation of an original date slated for last February.
Yeah. Like anyone in the building on Wednesday was planning on holding a grudge against Timberlake. The 33 year old owned the crowd, from the moment he rose up from beneath the stage on a platform, some 45 minutes later than the slated 8 p.m. start time.
Thing is, Timberlake was not engaging in empty boasting. He spent a few hours giving Buffalo a pop show on a higher level than any other mainstream act currently touring.
Forget Bruno Mars, at least for a few years yet.
Forget Lady Gaga, whose time may have come and gone.
Forget – gasp! – Jay Z and Beyonce, whose influence on Timberlake is clear, but whose efforts were eclipsed by the former NSYNC-er some four or five tunes into Wednesday’s gig.
This is how you do modern dance-pop. Big, bold, and visually spectacular, yes. But substantive on the musical end, too. And you’ve gotta be able to sing as well as you dance. Better, preferably. It doesn’t hurt if you happen to be the world’s most charming man, either.
Timberlake is the greatest pop culture talent of his generation. He’s funny, he can sing, he can play a few instruments reasonably well, he can write, he can dance, and he can command a stage. He’s also quite clearly obsessed with both Michael Jackson and Prince. But if you’re a guy weaned on R&B and pop and ’70s soul, well, you’d better be obsessed with both of those icons, and several others, too.
Wednesday’s show was divided into two sets. Deadline considerations prevented me from seeing all of set two, but by the time Timberlake returned from a short break to kick the audience in the face with the opening salvos of “Only When I Walk Away,” it was all over but the shouting. The entire sold-out FNC had been on its feet from the downbeat of set one. And set two, if the opening three songs were any indication, appeared poised to dig deeper, and to capitalize on the good will engendered by the stellar first set of mostly dance-friendly gems.
One might criticize the similarity of tempo, tone, tenor and key for the majority of set one, but really, that would be quibbling. Timberlake and his uber-talented band – two keyboardists, a drummer, a percussionist, a bassist, four horns, four backing vocalists, two guitarists and, by my count, somewhere in the area of 10 dancers – kept the action going, from the hand-clap-heavy, pseudo-gospel overtones of opener “Pusher Love Girl,” with its delicious Philly-soul vibe, through the more dreamy atmospherics of the alluringly strange “Futuresex/Lovesound,” and the straight-up “Off the Wall” era Michael Jackson overtones of the impossible to resist “TKO.”
Timberlake showed abundant growth with the release of last year’s “20/20 Experience,” pulling far ahead of his peer pack to conjure an album that assertively commingled funk, soul, R&B, pop and alternative rock tropes, and it’s his ability to sell this rather daring material to a straight mainstream audience that is perhaps his greatest talent.
So “Lovestoned,” with its elements of Coldplay and even Radiohead influence, went over as well as the more conventional modern R&B/pop ballad “Until the End of Time.”
Inspired, engaging, fun, sometimes a little bit corny and other times deeply and genuinely moving, Timberlake’s “make-good” for Buffalo offered a blueprint for the successful modern pop show. There was no shortage of magic on this night, to be sure.
What: Justin Timberlake
When: Wednesday evening
Where: First Niagara Center