This guy. This guy and his red shoes. This guy and his red shoes and his Tennessee crew. What can I say? He’s Justin Timberlake and he has got star-power.
Right from the get-go, the stage is black and he lets the 22 members of his supporting band “The Tennessee Kids” take to stage through a backlit smokey entrance. There is a pause before he walks out, and the crowd showers him with big love immediately.
The energy is high, the effects are wild, JT is jumping and bouncing around the stage beginning with his single “Filthy” from his latest album, “Man of the Woods.” He’s playful with the audience, swiping his hands through the outstretched arms from below and making the stands erupt wherever he directs his attention. The impulse to update social media with the visuals seems to run through the crowd. Phones are out and there is a sense of awe along with excitement. Everything everywhere on stage is just so impressive.
Drop-down screens enter and exit seamlessly with the music, visuals of trees at first – he is the Man of the Woods after all – and then later on other nature scenics. Clouds, mountains, the ocean. Tall grass grows out of a side stage and there’s even a campfire part-way through the show. The effects never get old and always feel visually delicious.
The stage is an elaborate setup, the band to one end with a wave-like walkway that meets a smaller centre-stage and continues on to the other end where there is another big stage. He works it too, gliding across the walkway in choreographed synchronicity with his six-member dialed-in dance posse. He spends time in all areas and acknowledges all ends of the arena. He bows reverently, if not cheekily, to the crowd every now and then, receiving the love and wisely remembering to return it.
The crowds’ response to his every move is impressive for a guy who’s only released four solo albums in his more than two decades in the industry. His magnetism can also be seen in the crowd that he’s attracted. Men and women, young-ish to old-ish. The majority in the twenties to thirties range, but not exclusively by any means.
At some point, the realization dawned that JT is at the point in his career where he’s representing his life’s body of work more than any one album. People are there because they knew him as a teen-bopper heart-throb in Nsync (I’m one of those people), or they’re there because he’s charmed them in his acting roles, or maybe it’s simply that it feels good to be around someone who has figured out how to wield his star-power and perhaps we all want a bit of that in our lives too. Partway through I wonder, is he even a good singer? Easily shrugged off because the show is just so much fun.
The set-list is a careful curation between new songs and old ones. The response to the older ones is always more dramatic, the crowd can’t help but yield to the nostalgic familiarity. Four songs in, it happens with “Sexy Back”. Happens again with “My Love”. He knows it and teases the audience accordingly.
There is a lightness and ease that accompanies some of his newer singles like, “Man of the Woods” and “Morning Light” which both have a signature coconuts-and-bongos kind of feel. Sweet and warm, letting the excitement ebb just a bit so that it can be re-ignited with the next big one.
The climax of the show begins with an acoustic introduction of “What Goes Around… Comes Around” which makes a very satisfying segway into “Say Something”. This is it, the highpoint. Everyone is right there with him, singing along. And it feels damn good.
He wraps it up with a fun inclusive version of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” where he and the Tennessee Kids fan out across the whole expanse of the stage and clap and sing with the crowd.
The only disappointing thing about the show was no encore. Otherwise, the lasting feeling was of smiling satisfaction.
Photos by Ryan Johnson