Despite being one of the most successful pop singers of all time; Justin Timberlake still remains a bit of an enigma. He has only put out five albums in sixteen years, hardly a prolific output. He is also an actor who comes in goes as he pleases, seemingly waiting to work with directors and writers who interest him. Despite the somewhat reclusiveness he sometimes exudes when he does put something out the world pays attention. Last month, his latest record Man on the Woods was released, to somewhat mixed reviews, but Timberlake going on tour is still a worthwhile event to attend. The stage setup rivalled the most advanced and creative in the game, there was a main stage on one end of the floor with a raised and winding catwalk that sneaks across the floor. Halfway through the catwalk was a circular platform that doubled as a bar for floor patrons. On the other end of the catwalk was another smaller stage allowing Timberlake and his army of backing musicians, singers and dancers to perform to every single person in the audience making every seat having the perfect sight line.
Behind the main stage a hatch opened with a blinding white light bursting forth, like a spaceship from Close Encounters from the Third Kind, one by one members of the Tennessee Kids, Timberlake’s backing band emerged. Their long tall shadows cast over the audience at the opposite end of the arena as they announced their arrival. Timberlake’s Man of the Woods logo, that suspiciously looks a lot like Skrillex’s OWSLA branding, lowers over the stage as lasers blast over the stage with Timberlake and the band kicking the show off with Filthy from his new album. Two male dancers rose up from below the floor to join JT on stage as he busts a move during instrumental breaks.
Throughout the show, mesh screens would lower on either end of the stage and in the middle creating a 3D projection no matter where you are sitting as they alternated between graphics that go with the songs like woodlands, sunsets and farms and footage of the show being shot from a multitude of cameras all over the ACC. Showing off his sense of humour he asked the crowd to shake their asses, and proceeded to bend over forty-five degrees and shook his own behind to the crowd.
Overall the night was just a hit parade, one after another. Throwing it back to 2006 and the massive song SexyBack, Timberlake did a call and response for the chorus of the song. This being the start of the Man of the Woods tour it happened to be the live debut of a ton of songs including the title song of said album. It was performed on the far end of the arena and grass sprouted up on stage (and would come back several times throughout the show). A piano rose up to the stage and Timberlake began to show just how versatile he was playing the organ tinged Señorita from his debut solo album Justified. Towards the end of the song his two drummers had an epic battle that amped the crowd up.
Switching over to a drum pad, he started playing the beat for Blessings and hit play on the hook on Drake’s vocals. It clearly is always a good move in Toronto for international acts to pay their respects as the crowd went nuts for “I’m here for a good time not a long time, you know”. This transitioned nicely into Timberlake playing the opening notes of My Love. The song concluded with one of the guitarists playing a heavy metal solo that elevated the song to new heights.
The music video for Cry Me a River was steeped with steam and fog obscuring the action at times, at the show, the stages and catwalks were flooded by smoke machines allowing Justin and his dancers to slink through the mist creating an eerie effect. There wasn’t a lot of crowd work between songs other than the occasional thank you’s but eventually Timberlake took some time to properly talk to everyone in attendance. Standing in the middle section of the stage, he said, “I love you so fucking much. It’s been a minute Toronto” and to celebrate and reached down to the bar below to grab a plate of shots and passed them out to the dozen or so band mates flanking him (including a few left overs given to audience members). He toasted the crowd by saying “to the 6, the North and motherfucking Drake!” before busting out an acoustic guitar to sing the aptly Drink You Away from The 20/20 Experience Part 2.
After a very long video clip consisting of couples talking about their love, everyone appeared on the small end of the stage wearing flannel and denim and sat down around an actual legit campfire. In case you think I’m being hyperbolic, I’m not, there was a campfire on stage at the Air Canada Centre, something I have never seen before. Each one of Timberlake’s four backup singers got a chance to sing a song solo while JT strummed on guitar. Songs played included Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, Come Together by The Beatles and hilariously Thank God I’m a Country Boy by John Denver.
The hits just kept on coming with cuts from Future Sex/Love Sounds like What Goes Around… Comes Around and Summer Love and the Justified era song Rock Your Body. In total eight songs from the sixteen track Man on the Woods album were played with live debuts also from Morning Light and Montana. Sadly no Chris Stapleton appearances were in store for their duet Say Something, which is a personal favourite of mine tune from the new album.
Eventually the show started to come to its natural conclusion, and I don’t know if after twenty-five songs, including a ton of dancing, some costume changes and just general showmanship that Timberlake may have been a bit tired but to close out the evening he performed Can’t Stop the Feeling! from the Trolls soundtrack that was a monster hit two years ago, but he seemed a little listless and in fact bored of the song. Maybe it is just me projected my own feelings onto a track that sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise very adult and mature discography but it just doesn’t suit him, no matter how catchy it may be.
This may very well have been the most impressive stage show I have ever seen, and despite tickets being slashed in cost only days before, the crowd was bumping and the mainly female crowd adored him. He is a consummate professional and a delight to see live enhancing his already great music.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation