Janet Jackson easily sold out the cozy Fabulous Fox Theatre last night, on the strength of a tour which featured her performing her number one hits. Backed by a five-piece band and three back-up singers - along with a fleet of dancers - the pop star ran through an impressive number of songs in a little over 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the execution of the top-hits premise was often lacking.
For starters, the songs were grouped into neatly packaged medleys with breaks in between for costume changes; these interludes ranged from Jackson's acting clips to a dazzling collection of her photos. Disappointingly, this meant that only select hits were played in their entirety. Besides that, Jackson's most energetic, lively music fell at the start and end of the show. The middle was an attention-sapping run-through of her slow jams and ballads. Both of these factors prevented the concert from gaining momentum.
Still, the show's engaging moments were magical. After an airing of the original "What Have You Done For Me Lately" video, Jackson emerged on the stage wearing a skin-tight grey rubbery outfit and launched right into generous snippets of the Control singles "Pleasure Principle" and "Control." A snappy, take-no-shit run-through of "Lately" - featuring some salacious dancing between Jackson and a male dancer - kept the energy high. Other highlights of the first set included an ebullient "Miss You Much" and rock-hard funk of "Nasty."
The show started lagging after the first break, when Jackson returned and perched on a stool to sing a few songs. "Let's Wait Awhile" sounded overly saccharine, as did "Again," one of the songs to receive the complete treatment. "Nothing," however, was haunting -- Jackson sounded exactly like her late brother Michael, almost eerily so.
The crowd grew more restless after a long second interlude. Jackson tried to engage the crowd during "Doesn't Matter," but the disinterest persisted -- so much so that even "Escapade" and "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" didn't quite connect. The lightweight 2001 hit "All For You" felt overly long and inconsequential, while a performance of the Nelly duet "Call On Me" was just boring, mainly because the St. Lunatic only appeared on a video screen performing his parts. "If"/"Scream"/"Rhythm Nation" at Radio City Music Hall
Things finally started picking back up with steamy versions of "That's The Way Love Goes" and "I Get So Lonely" - and exploded with a springy, dynamic version of "If," which found Jackson recreating the complicated dance moves from the video with pinpoint precision. She exhibited the same ferocity (and attention to detail) during the set-ending "Rhythm Nation," whose straight-faced blocky moves and propulsive percussion sent the crowd dancing.
In between these tunes came a well-received portion of "Scream," her 1995 duet with Michael. As black-and-white footage from the video rolled above the stage, Jackson sang lines such as "Stop pressuring me" and "Leave me alone." The juxtaposition of this footage and lyrics was poignant and bittersweet. Just a few songs later, Jackson again referenced her brother: During "Together Again," innocent photos of her and Michael appeared on the video screen. And at the end of the song, she expressed heartfelt thanks on behalf of her family for the support over the years.
The sincerity Jackson exhibited throughout the night stood out. Perhaps it was the (relatively) small venue or her top-notch dancers, but she came across as relaxed, and appeared to be having fun. The choreography, while featuring plenty of familiar moves from past tours and videos, similarly felt playful and loose. Jackson also looked fantastic, whether sporting the aforementioned rubbery suit, a simple black sleeveless shirt and black pants, or her encore fashion, a feminine pantsuit that resembled a Stormtrooper outfit.
In the end, though, while it was nice to hear so many hits, the show felt rushed because so many songs were crammed into an hour and a half. Had Jackson performed fewer songs - but more complete songs - the night might have been better-paced.
Critic's Notebook: The musicians and back-up singers were top-notch. The former especially handled booming rock, scorched funk, R&B subtlety and pop sweetness with ease. Jackson herself once again proved to be a lithe dancer capable of both seductive moves and high-energy aerobics.
During the montage of acting clips - which touched on Diff'rent Strokes, Poetic Justice and Why Did I Get Married Too? - it was odd that the clip from Good Times was so disturbing. In it, Jackson (as Penny) cowers in terror after it's insinuated that her mom is punishing her with a hot iron. Seriously, it was anxiety-inducing.
Personal Bias: Heartbroken that there was no "Black Cat."
Setlist: "What Have You Done For Me Lately" video "The Pleasure Principle" "Control" "What Have You Done For Me Lately" "Feedback" "You Want This" "Alright" "Miss You Much" "Nasty" *Video interlude featuring her acting roles "Nothing" "Come Back To Me" "Let's Wait Awhile" "Again" *interlude featuring photos of Janet "Doesn't Really Matter" "Escapade" "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" "When I Think Of You" "All for You" "Call On Me" (with video of Nelly on screen) "That's the Way Love Goes" "I Get So Lonely" *Band interlude "If" "Scream" "Rhythm Nation"
Encore: "Diamonds" "Make Me" "Together Again"