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Janet Jackson's high-energy performance reflects what's good — and bad — about RodeoHouston

Janet Jackson's high-energy performance reflects what's good — and bad — about RodeoHouston

News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
Janet Jackson Photo by John M. Boni/CatchlightGroup.com
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
Photo by John M. Boni/CatchlightGroup.com
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
Photo by John M. Boni/CatchlightGroup.com
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
Photo by John M. Boni/CatchlightGroup.com
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011
News_Janet Jackson_March 2011

It's a Catch-22 that RodeoHouston continually runs into: The more it spreads its wings and brings unprecedented non-country superstars like Janet Jackson to the mobile Reliant Stadium stage, the more it gets exposed for how limited a rodeo performance can be when compared to a regular (i.e. non-rodeo) concert.

Friday night at RodeoHouston Janet Jackson's performance — perhaps more than any in the last decade —exposed all that is great about a superstar performance on this specialty platform... as well as all that is lost in an effort to make a complex, choreographed diva show work in the abbreviated time frame artists are allotted to perform.

Given the terrain, the criticism is as close to looking a gift horse in the mouth as possible. And with tickets for a performance of Jackson's caliber priced as low as $18, there is little room to quibble.

But it can't be denied that when RodeoHouston goes mainstream something is lost in the translation.

It should be noted that none of these objections are any fault of Jackson's. As the first member of the Jackson family to play RodeoHouston since the Jackson Five back in 1975, the girl who was once simply known as "Michael's kid sister" and turned herself into and R&B legend, did what she was asked with incredible professionalism, sensuality and premium entertainment value.

Opening with a personalized video greeting to the Houston crowd (but with no mention of her contrversial performance on the same field at the Super Bowl in 2004 when she experienced the infamous "wardrobe malfunction"), her hit showcase was a tour of both the public musical wisdom and not-so-private life experience she has developed over the last 25 years.

Even more, it was an admission that these two virtues not only dominate her life, but are dependent on each other.

Choosing older single mid-'80s singles like "The Pleasure Principle" and "Control" to introduce the show was a nod to the innocence we all associated with Jackson back when she first arrived as an actor on sitcoms like Good Times and Different Strokes. The skin-tight suit, bursting with cleavage and curves, was a juxtaposition she did not offer when these songs were new.

Ms. Jackson, if you're nasty indeed.

Her 70 minutes on stage wove through the obvious —  "What Have You Done For Me Lately," "Miss You Much," "Alright" — all arranged with not only a large band but a crew of masked and fashion-forward dancers that looked plucked from a naughty art film like Tom Cruises' Eyes Wide Shut.

After sweating to her oldies, Jackson slowed it down for classic slow grooves like "Let's Wait Awhile," and "Come Back To Me," setting the mood for a big finale.

And at any other show Jackson would have been allowed to deliver the final kick. Unfortunately, at RodeoHouston, this was when when she was asked to wrap it up. Following, "Scream"  an encore tribute to her iconic brother Michael, and the bass-beat blast of "Rhythm Nation," Jackson was loaded into a yellow convertible and driven away.  

In the past the abbreviated RodeoHouston setlist was a theory, but the lighting and choreography and ensemble precision of Jackson's current Number Ones: Up Close and Personal World Tour require a setlist stability. A look at a setlist from a recent date on the tour in Indonesia last month compared to the setlist at RodeoHouston makes it clear that a significant middle chunk of her full show was missing. In addition to a medley of hits that included pop-pleasures "Escapade" and "Love Will Never Do (Without You)," past favorites like "That's The Way Love Goes" and "Black Cat," were also omitted for time.

For those not comparing notes from one show to another, this was historic night at RodeoHouston. 

As someone who knows there should have been more, however, I can't help but feel the enthusiastic rodeo crowd was cheated.

It begs the question: If RodeoHouston is going to pay the big bucks to bring these stars in, why not let them perform their show in its entirety?