Janet Jackson at the United Center
July 27, 2001
The show was undeniably impressive as Janet Jackson's All for You tour pulled into the
United Center for the first of three nights Thursday. She has trained her rabidly devoted
Chicago fans to expect nothing less.
But the balance was slightly off throughout the 90 minutes-plus performance. The
whiz-bang gimmickry often overpowered the music, distracting where in the past it had been
used to enhance. I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson, but I am for real, and this show just isn't.
Longtime fans of the dance/pop/R&B diva had to feel as if they've seen many of the
set pieces before because they have, as part of her last two tours.
The main difference was that Jackson upped the wattage on both the sex and the
spectacle this time out. The part where she pulled the (planted?) male fan from the
audience turned into a just-shy-of-pornographic S&M fantasy, complete with a rack,
shackles and a shiny leather dominatrix outfit.
That sort of thing is usually more Madonna's style.
The video duet with Carly Simon on "Son of A Gun (I Betcha Think This Song is
About You)" was kind of cool, but the twisted toy box fantasy involving costumed
characters, giant insects and floating puppets went beyond psychedelic into the positively
It was as if somebody had dosed the Cirque du Soleil, which just happened to be set up
in the United Center's parking lot, with some very bad acid.
The neon Chinese street scene and the outer-space Kabuki bits were slightly more
tasteful. But the connection between these images and Jackson's music was a complete and
All of these shenanigans were especially disappointing because many of the songs from
"All for You" are driven by powerful and cathartic emotions, reflecting the
recent dissolution of Jackson's marriage. But little of this "real" Janet was
ever visible onstage.
The closest the singer got to improvising was when she eschewed the traditional
crocodile tears during the predictable drawn-out moment when she stopped performing and
paused to silently bask in the glowing adoration of the crowd. But this might have been
because critics have started mocking the routine's scripted nature.
The set list followed the pattern of alternating the new songs with precision-crafted
medleys of older hits, a trick that Jackson's producer and mentor Jimmy Jam (who was in
the house) learned from his old boss Prince.
The medleys showed the strength of Jackson's eight-piece band and the enduring appeal
of her signature tunes, whether they were in ballad mode ("Come Back to Me,"
"Again," "Let's Wait Awhile") or more up-tempo ("Runaway,"
"When I Think of You," "Miss You Much," "Escapade").
But having seen variations of the same unflaggingly energetic aerobics workouts, the
"Miss Saigon"-style stage sets and the designer boutique full of costume changes
three times now, I couldn't help wondering how much more powerful Jackson would have been
if she just dropped all of these trappings and concentrated on the music.
She has to know the fans would follow her anywhere. It's a shame that after all these
years, she still isn't secure enough in her talents to take that chance.