Open for business for less than a week since undergoing a massive facelift, the iconic Forum in Los Angeles welcomed Justin Timberlake fans last week with a variety of new improvements to the venue: upgraded acoustics, an exterior paint job, and all-new cushioned seats to replace the old plastic ones. Though from the looks of the audience, it’s not likely that many people noticed that last one.
Timberlake kept the enthusiastic crowd on its feet for a full three hours, delivering a masterful set of 34 songs spanning not only his own solo career but also several generations and musical genres. Backed by a 16-piece supporting cast of instrumentalists, singers and dancers he called the Tennessee Kids, Timberlake seamlessly combined old and new, fast and slow, bombastic and understated … and, of course, suit and tie. The lead single from last year’s “The 20/20 Experience” was part of a homestretch marking the end of a show that seemed to have ended mere moments after starting.
That start had in fact come hours earlier, when Timberlake kicked off the evening with the opening track from “20/20,” “Pusher Love Girl.” Like most of the album’s songs, it not-so-subtly recalls an early ’90s Prince, who himself tore the roof off this same building with a 15-concert residence in 2011. Timberlake did his predecessor justice not only on record but also the Forum stage, offering a smooth bit of R&B alongside a commanding live presence that became increasingly impressive as the night wore on.
Like Prince, Timberlake was a one-man show at the Forum, surrounding himself with a solid backing band, but also proving his own chops by playing songs on the guitar, piano and organ. He was at his best, however, when showcasing his formidable dance skills, which not only entertained fans but also concealed the repetitiveness of some of his songs’ longer instrumental stretches.
Much of the evening’s choreography was not too far removed from what Timberlake was doing with NSYNC 15 years earlier, but what can you say - the singer clearly knows not to mess with a good thing.
The concert’s first half featured material from all four of Timberlake’s solo albums, and pulled into the intermission period with the 1-2 punch of “Holy Grail,” his collaboration with Jay-Z, and 2002’s “Cry Me a River.” Emerging from his 10-minute break in an all-black suit with no tie, Timberlake quickly picked up where he’d left off, at one point directly engaging members of the crowd as he stood at the foot of the stage with an acoustic guitar.
He also showed love for those in the (relatively) cheap seats, however: a wide section of stage was raised during the show’s second half and floated on hydraulic arms high above the floor, carrying the singer and several backing musicians to a smaller stage at the back of the arena where he covered vintage material like Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
Timberlake’s performance came to a close with last year’s “Mirrors,” a song heavily produced on record but performed just as powerfully with live musicians. In the end, the evening’s set list was nearly identical to his November shows in Southern California with one exception: a cover of 2Pac’s “California Love,” which he added in tribute to the Forum’s home in South Central LA. The song’s line “California knows how to party” made it an especially appropriate choice, considering that Timberlake spent 180 minutes proving that, with the right guy on stage, even a Monday night in Inglewood is perfect for a party.
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