Justin Timberlake, Jay Z Affirm Their 'Legends' Status with Rose Bowl Bow: Concert Review

Chris Godley
Two giants in their own genres left ego aside and shared the stage to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the audience.

UPDATED: The "Take Back the Night" singer and the "Tom Ford" rapper combined forces into a singular, larger-than-life show in Pasadena on Sunday.

Justin Timberlake and Jay Z are both mammoth talents in their own genres, but there's no doubt that when they came together for the Legends of the Summer tour, the sum was greater than its parts.

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It was a co-headlining bill at its finest: Instead of the typical two-set split, the music icons shared the enormous Rose Bowl stage, frequently interacting with each other and trading verses on songs, creating a singular experience for the crowd (estimated at 60,000) and transcending what could have been an ordinary show of two egos into something for the history books.

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It’s been a banner 2013 for both artists, with Timberlake, 32, returning to music after a six-year hiatus to focus on acting. His 20/20 Experience has become the year’s top-selling album so far. Jay Z, 43, isn't far behind. His 12th studio album, Magna Carta…Holy Grail, released July 4, has held the top spot on the Billboard 200 for two weeks in a row.

Almost as if looking to prove -- or reaffirm -- their own seat atop the pop and hip-hop heap, both are giving their all on this coast-to-coast trek. They performed some 36 songs in two and a half hours in one of the nation’s biggest venues.

The duo performed at a breakneck pace. The opener, “Holy Grail,” set the tone for the rest of the Sunday night show. Surrounded by images of classic Greek statues, Timberlake appeared on the left side of the stage and was joined by Jay Z on the opposite side. It was a choreographed dance they'd repeat throughout the show.

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Timberlake, earnest and musical, and Jay Z, dynamic and defiant, remained onstage together for the first few songs, blending their songs together and sharing choruses on “Rock Your Body,” "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Excuse Me Miss.” They gave the audience just what it wanted in charm and charisma but approached it in very different ways.

Timberlake, eager to be seen as an all-around artist and to leave his NSync past far behind him, works tirelessly, with a bouncy energy. Hopping from the mic to the piano (“Until the End of Time”) to the guitar (“Like I Love You”), he’s an unbelievable flirt, with a superpower-like ability to get the crowd screaming with the slightest motion. To wit: when he simply leaned his head against his mic for a moment in the middle of “Pusher Love Girl.” Wearing a black fedora and a variety of white shirts, Timberlake kept his dance moves small but often used them to send the crowd into hysterics. He was supported by a handful of energetic backup singers and a 14-piece band.

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Jay Z played it cooler. Displaying the kind of confidence you can only build after 15-plus years in the game, he performed both new and old hits, ranging from “99 Problems” to his latest smash, “Tom Ford," without any flashy background singers or dance moves -- just Hova, his black Nets hat and his words.

But where Jay has a certain timelessness to his sound, you couldn't necessarily say the same of Timberlake, whose songs, dating back to 2002 in the case of "Cry Me a River" and "Like I Love You," at times sounded dated. That was felt most prominently during the last song, when Timberlake brought out his collaborator of more than a decade, Timbaland, to perform "SexyBack." The stadium proved perhaps too big for Timberlake, who also struggled singing the Frank Sinatra classic "New York, New York" as a preamble to Jay's "Empire State of Mind." He came off sounding nasal and tinny.

The encore put some of that cringing away, though, as Timberlake launched into “Suit and Tie” while Jay Z threw on a suit jacket over his black T-shirt. Both carried out flutes of champagne in a fitting sendoff for a night of amazing performances.

Not one to waste away an opportunity for a giant platform, Jay Z dedicated the final song, “Forever Young,” to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, encouraging the crowd to hold up lit-up phones as their modern-day candles. It was an emotional end to a concert that had the crowd on its feet.

Sure, their performance styles may differ, but the duo had one very important thing in common: Both are larger-than-life performers even in that massive a venue. And that is the stuff of legends.

Set List:

Holy Grail
Rock Your Body
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Excuse Me Miss
On to the Next One
Like I Love You
My Love
Big Pimpin'
Tunnel Vision
Jigga What, Jigga Who
U Don't Know
99 Problems
Public Service Announcement
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Heart of the City
Pusher Love Girl
Summer Love
Until the End of Time
Cry Me a River
Take Back the Night
What Goes Around ... Comes Around
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
N--- in Paris
Tom Ford
New York New York
Empire State of Mind
Run This Town
SexyBack (with Timbaland)


Suit & Tie
Young Forever

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford

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