EmptyHonda Center, Anaheim
Tuesday, Jan. 9
Somewhere between 'N Sync and this week's launch of his 2007 FutureSex/LoveShow tour, Justin Timberlake made the transition from boy band to a man with his own band, paying homage as a fan. Judging from the second stop on the world tour Tuesday night in Anaheim, it's an evolution that serves him well, and one that his fans don't seem to mind one bit.
That is, if the bulk of the sold-out Honda Center even realized that most of what their hero delivered has been done before, most notably -- and often obviously -- by the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson.
Early in the 140-minute set, "Sexy Ladies" and "Until the End of Time" were strung back-to-back like an homage to "Gett Off" and the title track from Prince's 1991 release "Diamonds and Pearls." While it's easy to run aground when following so close to the heels of a legend, Timberlake delivered the duo respectfully. Rather than play to ego, he played to the seven-piece band that accompanied him throughout the night -- his answer to the Purple One's New Power Generation -- and was joined by nine dancers and four backing singers. Solo superstar that he has become, Timberlake was never alone in the spotlight for too long, and the conservative approach played to his strengths.
His falsetto never hit the shrieking wail that much of the predominantly suburban crowd unleashed during the night, but its touch still didn't help "My Love." Instead, the set's high points came when JT let his smooth Southern soul mingle with the colorful hues of rhythm and blues.
"Losing My Way" and "Cry Me a River" were successive ballads offered with an epic flair, the first featuring Timberlake alone at a piano at the center of the in-the-round stage. Canopied for the song, the curtains that surrounded him featured video footage of an orchestra and gospel choir, a subtle touch that spoke volumes: Timberlake's not afraid to let the songs shine brighter than his star.
The dancers returned on "River," the choreography as tasteful as it was throughout the night, while still adding significantly to the show. While it was easy to see splashes of Jackson's moves on "Rock Your Body" and "Summer Love," they never stole the focus, as Timberlake's dancing was never more than an accent. The vocal highlight of the night came in a medley, his former band's "Gone" blending into the soft, soothing croon of "Take it From Here," allowing for a brief segue through the Commodores' "Easy" and into the Stevie Wonder-sounding "Last Night."
But it was new album "FutureSex/LoveSounds" that made the biggest impact, played in its entirety throughout the night. Rapper-producer Timbaland joined Timberlake for "Chop Me Up," then stayed onstage for a 30-minute DJ set/mash-up (accompanied by Timberlake on keyboards) that featured a bevy of today's hits and classic tracks.
The obvious highlight, though, was "SexyBack," which closed the main set and showed the potential of Timberlake's future, melding his suave confidence and soulful style with a techno pulse and steady backbeat that -- along with the new album's title track, which opened the set, and "Love Stoned" -- demonstrated that there might be more to this former boy band standout than meets the eye.
Timberlake not only brought sexy back, he brought it back with the promise of a bright future.