Justin Timberlake review: Looking for some dirt on Mr Timberlake

04 Oct 2014 20:50
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Squeaky clean: Justin Timberlake is looking for an edge. Photo: Getty Images
Reviewer rating:
Justin Timberlake Allphones Arena, October 1 ★★★½
You don't have to be Joe Orton to recognise that sometimes even the best behaved of us want a bit of rough. It's true: you know it, I know it. Not brutal, not relentless, certainly not all the time but at the very least a hint of danger, of risk, of … well, to be honest, someone else's bad behaviour.
Watching Justin Timberlake, who would like to be edgy but isn't sure whether that edge cuts both ways, is an intriguing exercise in neediness. His and ours.
Does he ask himself if the beard is enough, even if it sits politely somewhere between teen boy fluff and hipster forest? Can a casual, one could say almost perfunctory, crotch grab late in the show do it? Does a few "we're going to f—-ing party" raise the bar enough?
On his first tour here, in 2004, an impressive Timberlake played extended jams of '70s soul and funk in and around his fine R&B/pop hits, flummoxing a healthy portion of his audience who came for squeals and got a little too much "for reals". Three years later, Timberlake offered a massive pop enterprise that never paused, threw everything (musical and technological) at us and, given it was set in the round, had no hidden corners or secrets - musical or personal.
Now? Now it's something of both. There were a few (limited) jams, a few throwbacks (Kool and The Gang's Jungle Boogie; Bell Biv DeVoe's Poison; Michael Jackson's Human Nature) and few fripperies on a relatively bare stage, bar the hydraulics taking all the band and singers up and down in one go.
This was balanced by extended dance sequences, a heavy reliance on keyboards and augmented sounds (vocal and instrumental) and a fairly gobsmacking moment when a wide section of stage lifted up and transported Timberlake and others across/above the audience out to the B-stage/"pay extra money for a bar ambience" seats.
Likewise, there was a patchy first half, where the hits - Rock Your Body, LoveStoned, Like I Love You - seemed a bit sluggish in a set whose songs were stronger on moves than tunes and things always felt caught between wanting to be cerebral or full on celebratory.
But this was balanced by a second half which flowed better and generated more energy whether in the suggestion of Latin-meets-Jackson in Let The Groove Get In (aka his Wanna Be Startin' Something) or the extended disco sequence which began with Turn Back The Night, tried on Jungle Boogie and ended with Murder and Poison.
It was a pop show done well but it, and he, was pretty spotless and skated a little too close to anodyne at times because of that. Like (the lesser talented) Jason Derulo and (his real all-round entertainer competition) Bruno Mars, Timberlake is so clean you could eat off him. But scratch that pristine surface and you sense he tries on roles more than inhabits them, that his songs' lovers and fighters are parading rather than engaging and that on stage he is still telling, not showing us.
It's why I at least wouldn't mind a bit of dirt, a little roughing up, a genuine touch of risk in the entertaining Mr Timberlake.
Justin Timberlake plays Allphones Arena, Thursday, October 2

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