Justin Timberlake, the most successful solo performer of the post-boy band era, rolled into Toyota Center on Wednesday, May 23 with The Man of the Woods tour and quickly made it his own, rocking a party rarely seen in an arena-sized venue. He led the more-than-receptive audience through approximately two hours of hits, utilizing his multiple talents and inordinate charisma to put on an excellent show.
The night’s crowd consisted of 85 percent women, ranging from mid-thirties and above, with 15 percent supportive boyfriends and husbands along for the ride as their ladies screamed and danced for another man. Then again, that man is more talented than almost every other on the planet when it comes to performing pop music, and JT’s long career as a performer shined throughout the night, giving the women in the crowd (and their fellas) everything they came to see.
He brought with him a 15-piece entourage, replete with a full band, team of dancers, back-up singers, and brass section (shout out to the tuba/trombone player). But it was the production that was most impressive, the stage itself a twisting, river-like structure that covered almost the entire length of the arena floor, with multiple points serving as places to execute expertly choreographed numbers, giving each part of the venue a chance to see the performers up close. Being the Man of the Woods tour, two sets of trees adorned certain points of the stage and even a patch of grass(!) decorating the far end of the set-up. The stage featured impressive lighting rig and three sets of screens hung from the ceiling that allowed great views from anywhere in the house, not an easy thing in a venue that seats nearly 20,000 fans.
Timberlake, requisitely decked out in a denim jacket, kicked off the evening with the slow-build of “Filthy,” the first single from the tour’s namesake album. Any negative reviews of that album were washed away with his ultra-tight, professional backing band elevating the material. The biggest screams early came with the one-two punch of FutureSex/LoveSounds tracks “LoveStoned” and “SexyBack” — that album’s songs would get the biggest response throughout.
The first, and longest, third of the set’s highlights included an expert dance breakdown during “Suit & Tie” from the night’s most underrepresented double album, The 20/20 Experience, and an impressive version of still-great “Cry Me a River” from JT’s first solo album, 2002’s Justified. It was simply hard to fathom how much work went into planning and executing the extensive song and dance numbers of the 27-song concert - the professionalism on display was mind-boggling.
Any criticism from the show came during the “Campfire” mid-section of the show, when members of Timberlake’s backing band convened around an actual campfire at the far end of the stage, complete with log benches, acoustic guitars, and blankets. This section included a series of covers, almost exclusively sung by his backup vocalists, including Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” A cover of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was a little too on the nose.
The middle section may have slowed the momentum and intensity of the opening third of the show, but it was purposeful, as there was no way anyone’s voice or body could sustain the energy of the earlier numbers. Thankfully, the mini-set was largely abbreviated and it quickly morphed into the final third of the act when Timberlake built back the earlier energy levels.
Highlights from the final third included a rousing, uplifting version of “Say Something” from Man of the Woods; “Rock Your Body,” replete with a dance number on lit up diso floor that recalled the heights of popularity of MTV’s Total Request Live; and the exclamation point of a finale in the Oscar-nominated track, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from the universally adored Trolls movie.
During this part of the show, JT sported a Santa Fe Strong shirt, calling out his support of the high school that recently suffered the country’s latest mass shooting. A final dedication to the students of Sante Fe added a classy, personalized touch that ended the show on a poignant high note.
As for the openers, The Shadowboxers did a serviceable job in getting the crowd warmed up with tunes that were right in the Timberlake wheelhouse with Bee Gees inflected, harmonized pop songs. A cover of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” was a highlight.
Before and after The Shadowboxers, DJ Freestyle Steve was a fantastic hype man, raising the temperature of the Toyota Center to boiling point with well selected, old school hip-hop tracks. One of the best received moments of the night came when he invited former Texan wide-receiver Andre Johnson for some much deserved, hometown love.
Much like his musical output, the show was a sometimes a little bloated, but overall, the production, stage set-up, and Timberlake’s tremendous charisma as a performer won the night. Thankfully, for those on the fence about purchasing tickets, there are still a few left for May 25’s show. After witnessing Wednesday night’s triumphant performance, this concert is worth the price of admission for both casual and diehard Timberlake fans alike. Don't miss out.
"Midnight Summer Jam"
"Man of the Woods:
"Suit and Tie"
"Cry Me a River"
"Drink You Away"
"Until the End of Time"
"Dreams" (Fleetwood Mac cover)
"Ex-Factor" (Lauryn Hill cover)
"Come Together" (The Beatles cover)
"Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (John Denver cover)
"What Goes Around...Comes Around"
"Rock Your Body"
"Like I Love You"
"Can't Stop the Feeling!"