It was one missed opportunity after the next for Justin Timberlake at Staples Center on Tuesday night. What promised to be an amazing pop celebration ended up being an unimaginative and poorly produced 32 song disappointment.
The night was designed to demonstrate how Justin is a continuation of the great soul and pop music that he was raised on. As the band emerged from the stage, donning tuxedos and placed behind monogramed music stands, Justin crooned his way through a Mowtown-esque Pusher Love Girl. The all white honeycomb backdrop and subtle lighting gave the illusion that we were watching the show in an old jazz club with Justin playing the part of band leader. The luster quickly wore off as Justin never really emerged from shadows and the intricacies of the songs were drowned out by an overly aggressive bass.
For something called the 20/20 experience you couldn’t see a damn thing. Poor lighting and a stagnant stage production left the crowd bored and uninterested after the first couple of songs. The honeycomb backdrop was nothing more than a surface for projectors to display live video and forgettable imagery that did nothing to complement what was happening on stage. A group of background dancers were a fixture throughout the show but they were noticeably less talented than Justin and never utilized as anything but a prop.
Justin noticed that he was losing the crowd as he spoke between songs. “I don’t know why you are sitting down? Time to get of your ass and dance!” Unfortunately, the crowd was less than inspired with FutureSex/LoveSound and went back to their sitting position. One of the more grimace worthy moments of the night was when JT tried to get the crowd to sing along with Summer Love and got minimal response. I’m not sure if it was because the crowd didn’t know the words or that they were no longer invested in the show. A decent version of Cry Me a River closed out the first set and I hoped that after intermission the show would take on new life. I was wrong.
A very odd reggae infused Only When I Walk Away followed by an equally odd, horror themed version of True Blood left the audience quiet. A palatable lack of enthusiasm from the crowd led Justin to ask: “Are we in here?” You could tell Justin tried to kick up his performance. He worked really hard to re-engage the crowd with minimal return. The mid-tempo songs started to blend together and most of the second act became a monotonous steam of tonal similarities.
One moment that made the second half interesting was when the front of the stage was lifted into the air like a bridge and made its way over the crowd and to a smaller stage at the back of the floor. From there they played decent versions of Heartbreak Hotel and Michael Jackson’s Human Nature… again trying to tie JT with the history of pop music. This part of the set worked pretty well. It didn’t feel like Justin was trying claim to be the new king of pop or even put himself on the same level as his heroes. He wanted to show how much he loved those songs and he did it without pretension.
The final run on the show (Suit & Tie/Sexy Back/Mirrors) highlighted the potential of the evening. Justin was on his game as a performer, the band was tight, the stage was finally utilized but the sound was brutal. Everything was drowned out by the low end which had reached painful levels. Mirrors is a tremendous song and translates very well live but by that time it was too little too late.
Overall the night was disappointing. The shows lack of imagination, poor production and monotonous set list did not make the 20/20 experience worth the ticket price. Justin Timberlake is a tremendous performer but his talent wasn’t enough to overcome the challenges of the rest of the production.
Pusher Love Girl
Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)
Rock Your Body
Don’t Hold the Wall
Like I Love You
Until the End of Time
Holy Grail (intro only)
Cry Me a River
Only When I Walk Away
Drink You Away
Let the Groove Get In
Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)
Not a Bad Thing
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
What Goes Around… Comes Around (acoustic)
Take Back the Night (with Jungle Boogie outro)
Poison (Bell Biv DeVoe cover)
Suit & Tie