By March 19, 2007

I want my hearing back (yeah!)

Lady Jaye and I bought our tickets to see Justin Timberlake and P!nk last November. We saw them perform last night, officially making this the longest purchase-to-event period for me ever. We had third row seats, which were just fantastic. Justin Timberlake put on a very energetic performance, but it must be a hard blow to the ego to be shown up by a 5′ 4″ fireball of a pixie. Opening up for a big act has its benefits. With her set only lasting an hour, P!nk was able to play only her most memorable, (mostly energetic) songs. Compared to the two hour-plus long set Timberlake put on (not including the rather flat intermission by an otherwise badass Timbaland), P!nk cranked right along in high-flying, high-intensity style. Her backup singers/dancers seemed totally energetic and fresh the entire set.

P!nk really worked with the crowd, as opposed to just to them. She manuevered around the four-directional stage equally and encouraged the crowd to sing and play along with her. She waved at people in the crowd and made small talk with them. P!nk demonstrated her favorite dance during a pause: a completely silly movement while maintaining a serious, almost aggressive face. Apparently someone in the crowd near the stage did an excellent rendition, and P!nk singled them out and said, “wow, that’s really really good!”

P!nk’s stage was pretty plain. This served to highlight her, her music, and her interaction with the crowd. It was easy to keep my eyes on her and follow her about the stage. She closed up her set with a really awesome acrobatic act along with one of her backup dancers — both were suspended about thirty feet up from the stage via two bolts of cloth, and flipped around without the security of a safety harness. It was an elegant act that required a lot of strength, and that’s my perfect combo. Very impressive.

Justin Timberlake’s set was almost the complete opposite. It was a multimedia triumph: very clever projection on translucent fabric, lots of lights, lasers, and man-operated cameras suspended fifty feet above the stage. P!nk had four dancers, Justin had eight plus his four backup singers. P!nk had a guitarist, one drummer and a keyboardist, Justin had at least three percussion stations, four keytars, a baby grand piano, a guitarist, and two keyboardists. While not all of the instruments were played at the same time, it was an aural assault that the sound system could not handle. Timberlake brought out the big guns, and as a result, he put on a very mediocre show.

It was impossible to really fixate on Justin without missing out on something else. If you looked at him on one side of the stage, you’d miss out on something else going on at the other end. My favorite performer of his set was a heavy fella with a really pimp fedora. He kept doing a very cool, laid-back shuffle dance as he sang backup. If I watched him, I couldn’t watch Justin. The sheer fabric that acted as a projection screen was overly-captivating. I was so close to the action that I could count the buttons on Timberlake’s shirt, but halfway through the concert I found myself watching the “big screen” more than the human source standing right in front of it. Whereas P!nk’s sound was clear, perhaps due to the sparsity of her arrangement, Timberlake’s audio was improperly balanced the entire show. Too much low-level bass muddied the more delicate instruments of each song. Lady Jaye remarked she had a hard time hearing the backup singers at all. All of those instruments I mentioned earlier? It was the audio equivalent of mixing different colored crayons together and getting black. It’s a shame, because Timberlake has some pretty complex music (for a pop artist), and has a great voice. The sound system forced him to screech in order to be clearly heard.

The set dragged on, and on, and on. I realize that for the money people paid to see the show, they wanted to see the show. Justin has a lot of material that doesn’t lend itself to an energetic concert; lots of love songs, sad songs, and otherwise downtempo tracks that can deflate a crowd just as much as his dance tracks can energize one. As such, the set list spacing was all sorts of wrong. The crowd practically came out of its skin during “Sexyback,” but then Justin followed up with a solo, acoustic tune on a piano. Downer. This happened all throughout the show — a shortened version of “My Love” was followed by a slow song, and then it happened again after “Dance With Me.” Lady Jaye theorized on the way home that maybe Timberlake was bored with how the show may have been played elsewhere. This makes sense: after playing almost all of his US shows, I’d be bored if I were he. Whatever the reason, it hurt the crowd’s intensity level throughout the show.

While Timberlake did a good job of engaging the crowd at large, he didn’t engage anyone on a one-on-one level. The crack about his home state of Tennessee beating hometown UVA in the NCAA mens’ basketball tourney was ballsy and funny. But there wasn’t the individual attention we saw from P!nk. At certain points of the stage, fans were literally a security guard away from their favorite singer. No talk about how great someone was dancing, or how loud or energetic someone was being. I didn’t expect this at Rush, or Metallica, where the artists could hardly see the fans. But as I learned from watching Aerosmith, artists can, and will, engage the crowd on a personal level. One of my most memorable concert moments is watching Steven Tyler fearlessly but perilously scale to the second level of the arena just so he could dance and share the mic with a devoted fan.

It must be hard for an artist to strike a balance between a “show” and a “concert.” I also reckon some people prefer the one-dimensional nature of a concert. Perhaps they just want to see them perform in real life, instead of via a television. My tastes lean towards the “show,” and I get the greatest charge by being in a crowd screaming and singing along to a band that wants to interact with their fans as much as possible. No offense to the brand-new John Paul Jones Arena, but I have a more balanced AV system in my house. I didn’t come for the music, I came for the experience. And as such, P!nk certainly stole the show.

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1 Comment on "I want my hearing back (yeah!)"

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  1. Bond says:

    It’s funny, a local club we go to plays tons of JT dance remixes, they are amazingly good and make you want to move that “junk”. A friend and I heard the actual non-edited songs the other night and hated them. I guess some of his stuff does lack energy that the remixes add.

    Glad you had fun. Sounds like a blast.