After spending an entire night singing and dancing joyously with thousands of co-patrons at the Rose Bowl last Sunday night, a thought occurred to me: few artists could ever hope to sell out a stadium tour, but only a truly legendary performance could bring an entire stadium of people to their feet for three hours straight. That’s why I find the Legends of Summer Tour to be such an appropriate name for Justin Timberlake and Jay Z’s summer-long escapade. The duo, both fresh off of new album releases, brought Pasadena’s Rose Bowl to life with a dynamic, new take on the concept of two headliners ‘sharing a stage.’ With 12 stops in the U.S. and Canada, the boys are spending their summers showing exactly why they deserve to call themselves legends.
The Rose Bowl, a venue usually reserved for UCLA football, saw a different kind of crowd when JT and Hova took the stage. The stadium’s 90,000 seats were near full with young and fashionable fans ready to party; many of the attendees dressed to the nines to keep up with the performers’ “Suit and Tie” motif. The stage had a simple set-up — three panels decked out in red with two huge blocks on either side of center stage that seemed, at first glance, a bit unnecessary. This all changed, however, as soon as the two superstars made a dramatic entrance as silhouettes projected on the side screens.
The duo’s first song, “Holy Grail,” set the tone for the night; the chart-topper off of Jay Z’s new album (“Magna Carta… Holy Grail”) does wonders for showcasing both Timberlake’s pipes and Hov’s rhymes. If anyone walked into the show questioning the relevance of these two long-time performers, the power of the opening number surely erased any doubt.
Justin and Hov then launched into a medley of old hits, passing the mic back and forth for numbers like “Big Pimpin’” and “Rock Your Body.” JT even busted out a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” which transitioned flawlessly into Jay’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A).” As a long time fan of both artists, the high-energy romp through memory lane was exciting, to say the least. The enormous Rose Bowl crowd seemed to think so too, as the beginning of every song was received with roars of approval and screams of delight.
Both of the artists had some solo time on stage, where Justin performed favorites like “Summer Love” and “What Goes Around…Comes Around,” and Jay revisited numbers like “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who.” Although they let each other do their own thing, both JT and Jay stuck around for the majority of the other’s set. During the classic “99 Problems,” Justin took over the vocals for the character of the cop that is attempting to search Jay Z’s car, a moment so amazing that the entire stadium was left wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
Along with gems from the past, both artists delivered with heavy hitters from their new albums. “Magna Carta… Holy Grail’s” “Tom Ford” seemed to be a fan favorite, and although he stumbled a bit halfway through the performance, Jay Z’s enthusiastic audience didn’t seem to mind. Justin brought his new release, “The 20/20 Experience,” to life with stellar performances of “Pusher Love Girl” and “Tunnel Vision.” Unlike the pelvic thrust-heavy days of “Future Sex/Love Sounds,” 2013 JT is a bit more suave and a lot more stationary; dude barely even busted a move, which was a huge let-down for this writer.
After Alicia Keys’ cameo at the New York stop of the tour, the rumor mill began buzzing with prospective guest stars for the Pasadena performance. During a dramatic pause in Jay Z’s performance of “Ni**as in Paris,” every attendee shuddered in anticipation for Kanye West’s rumored appearance. Unfortunately, he did not show. We were left with nothing more than a half-hearted guest performance by Timbaland, who spent the entirety of Timberlake’s “SexyBack” shuffling awkwardly around the stage trying (and failing) to match the pop star’s energy. While Jay Z and JT both put on an amazing show, a little stop-in from Beyoncé or Kanye definitely wouldn’t have hurt.
The final few numbers of the show were nothing short of magical. Justin hit his performance peak during “Mirrors,” which had the entire stadium united in a moment of sing-along (“You are/ You are/ The love of my life”). The duo, decked out in dapper get-ups, reunited for a performance of “Suit and Tie,” which was most definitely the moment I realized how genuinely cool both of our headliners were. Justin, grooving to his jazzy backing horns, and Jay Z, spitting passionately about wearing “tuxedos for no reason,” made a pretty awesome pair.
Jay Z asked for the crowd to put up their smartphones as he dedicated the final song, “Young Forever,” to Trayvon Martin. Justin took over the vocals of the classic tune, and the thousands of sparkling lights illuminating the stadium made for a memorable and emotional experience.
After closing out the song, the duo met in the middle of the stage and walked up the stairs side-by-side, teasingly nudging each other offstage. This was a pretty good representation of the night. Although both performers had their highs and lows, one never outshone or upstaged the other. The two superstars, who obviously get along very well, put on the first truly ‘co-headlined’ performance I’ve ever witnessed. Although the stadium setting could have felt impersonal, Justin Timberlake and Jay Z presented an intimate and impressive performance with their Legends of the Summer tour.