Kids, they grow up
so darn fast. It seems like only yesterday we were watching Justin
Timberlake and the other goobers in 'N Sync flying over our heads on
wires, employing an arsenal of visual gimmickry to enhance their
digitally assisted crooning and carefully choreographed dancing in
Now, the 25-year-old Memphis-bred singer is gearing up for the Sept.
12 release of his second solo disc, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," one of
the most anticipated pop albums of 2006. And he's in the midst of an
intimate club tour heralding its arrival with a stripped-down show
designed to prove he's the real deal: a serious blue-eyed soul man
who can carry the day with charisma and a voice free of sonic
enhancement -- well, except for all that echo and reverb heaped upon
the occasional high-register trilling.
From his grammar
school days as a second generation Mouseketeer to the Lou
Pearlman-engineered master class of 'N Sync's career (56 million
albums sold!), JT has learned well how to give the people what they
want, and he may be the hardest-working man in show business today,
in more ways than one. He not only emulates the classic R&B
showmanship of James Brown -- and Michael Jackson and Prince and
Stevie Wonder and others too numerous to mention -- he's determined
to pull out all the stops to win the hearts and minds of anyone with
a pulse, an iPod or a CD player.
And damn if it
ain't impossible not to love him for it, though not necessarily to
the extent of the screaming, swooning, lustful fans -- 80 percent
female, 20 percent male and now all of drinking age -- who packed
the House of Blues on Tuesday night.
absurdly tight 11-piece band -- including three backing vocalists,
two keyboardists, two guitarists, a drummer and a percussionist,
seasoned R&B pros one and all -- JT gave us 90 minutes of
playground-rhyming hip-hop seductions (the new single "SexyBack"),
sensual slow grooves ("Take It From Here"), hot 'n' horny aerobics
workouts ("Rock Your Body"), Madonna-esque dance-pop ("Like I Love
You") and lighters-in-the-air, hair-metal-inflected power balladry
("What Goes Around").
In the course of
it all, the group threw in snippet after snippet of other well-known
tunes -- from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," to "Summer
Breeze" by Seals & Crofts, to the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are
Made of This)" -- ostensibly with the goal of providing something
for everyone, but also underscoring the more subtle message that any
way you cut it, Timberlake is a pop star for the ages.
Not that JT took
anything for granted. He dressed for success as a combination of
1940s swell and 1930s gangster -- think Frank Sinatra in that famous
mug shot -- with a fedora, vest, tie and Oxford shirt that were each
"casually" removed at selected points in the show for maximum "ooh
and ahh" effect.
He flirted with
the ladies -- and possibly the fellas -- intimating that he'd be
glad to meet them at the bar after the show. (They all know he's
still hot and heavy with actress Cameron Diaz but, hey, his grandma
did recently tell a gossip columnist that marriage is "about how
mature you are ... and he isn't ready.")
He worked up a
serious sweat as he danced, popping and locking, slickly gliding
across the stage and naughtily shaking his rump. He mimicked Wonder
and Ray Charles while sitting at a Fender Rhodes electric piano; he
strummed a Spanish rhythm on an acoustic guitar, and he gleefully
beat-boxed on the microphone. And all the while, he soared from
bedroom baritone to orgasmic falsetto, working a voice that, on
close examination, really isn't that special, though he tries to
wring the most out of every note and generally succeeds when he
doesn't extend his four-minute pop tunes into eight-minute jams.
Timberlake the new King of Pop? If he's smart, he'll realize that
Jackson has soiled that appellation past the point where anyone
should ever claim it again. But as long as JT keeps working this
hard -- and he stays away from the amusement parks and the
chimpanzees -- he's really got no competition.