After years of rumors and hopeful wishes from his fans, Justin Timberlake returned to the music scene in 2013 with a two-part album, The 20/20 Experience. Released months apart from each other, the two halves of the record featured some of the strongest material of Timberlake’s career, allowing him to easily slip back into radio playlists and launch a massive arena trek. Now on the final leg of that trek, Timberlake touched down at the Chesapeake Energy Arena last night for a show unlike any other out there today. Backed by a tight band and a massive production, Timberlake proved his place as one of the top performers in the pop game.
Long gone are the days of ’N Sync, and while occasional dance flourishes might have reminded some audience members of Timberlake’s past, the evening served as a showcase of Timberlake the solo artist. There were hits from Timberlake’s first solo excursion (2003’s Justified), including “Senorita” and “Like I Love You,” and quite a bit of material from 2006’s killer FutureSex/LoveSounds.
It was the new material that took up most of the setlist, however, and the crowd couldn’t have been more excited. Opening with the string-heavy “Pusher Love Girl,” Timberlake wove in and out of his solo material for nearly three hours. A massive hexagonal stage wrapped around Timberlake and his 20-something member band. The horn players danced behind custom JT pedestals, a tip of the hat to some of the big-band musicians that Timberlake seems to be taking after these days, while dancers wrapped around the leader of the pack.
The stage itself was a sight to behold, a truly intense mixture of lasers, fog and strobe lights providing the backdrop for Timberlake. During “Let the Groove Get In,” Timberlake and a few dancers actually rode a section of the stage up into the air, slowly moving down the entire length of the arena before finally arriving at a b-stage/bar setup for a mini set at the back.
Eye-catching and quite dramatic, a stage like this could run the risk of distracting from an average performer. Average is not a word one would use to describe Timberlake though. Dripping with personality, charm and charisma, it’s not hard to see why Timberlake has remained so popular for so long. He had no problems chatting with the audience, shaking hands or cracking jokes, and seemed to be enjoying the evening almost as much as the sold out arena was.
While the setlist for the tour has remained largely static, Oklahoma City did get a little bonus in the form of a cover of Garth Brooks’ seminal “Friends in Low Places,” which somehow managed to become the loudest singalong of the evening. Other covers included a charming take on Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” and a nice performance of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” both serving as tributes to some of Timberlake’s biggest inspirations.
While Timberlake danced and sang for most of the evening, he did occasionally step behind an instrument. “Until the End of Time” found him sitting behind a gorgeous white piano, while the country-ish “Drink You Away” found him slipping on an acoustic guitar (with a “JT” emblazoned guitar strap, of course). His voice was his main instrument however, and it sounded just about as good as one could hope.
While the entire night was filled with great performances, a segment at the end of the main set seemed to really get the crowd going. As Timberlake and his band rode their crazy stage attachment back to the main stage from the back of the crowd, they started out with “Take Back the Night,” one of the strongest songs from last year’s dual-album release. As it wound down, however, it gave way to Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” surprising and delighting the audience. This quickly progressed into “Murder,” also from last year’s 20/20 Experience, finally capping off with Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” This entire segment lasted less than 15 minutes, but it seemed to drive the crowd crazy for the duration. Also, props to Bell Biv Devoe for making one of the most irresistible hooks in music.
For such a lengthy show, things moved along at a quick pace. A 10-minute intermission broke up the two main sets of the show, and by the time Timberlake closed the evening with encore performances of “SexyBack” and “Mirrors,” it had been nearly three hours since he took the stage. It’s hard to imagine performing such a show night after night, but Timberlake more than delivered.
In an era where pop is more disposable than ever, it’s nice to see an artist who takes such pride in creating a show that fans will remember and talk about for years to come. With this tour winding down it’s hard to know what Timberlake will do next. With any luck, he won’t wait nearly a decade to release more music like he did last time, but even if he does you can bet he will have arenas and stadiums full of fans awaiting his return.