Ancient concert-going etiquette dictates that you should never attend a musician's show wearing that musician's gear. If there's one person who can get away with this, it's Justin Timberlake, who spent a good part of his Saturday night in South Philly rocking a denim jacket embroidered with his own logo.
Working both the main stage and a tree-lined walkway that snaked out like a wonky question mark, Timberlake strutted the expanse in a pair of extremely expensive-looking LeBrons, offering a few more new songs before dropping his first big hammer: "SexyBack," which whipped the sizeable with-you-since-*NSYNC audience into hysterics.
It's been successful on the radio, but the jury is still out on whether it's been truly embraced by his core ticket buyers. His performance of the new album's title track, especially following "SexyBack," seemed to deflate the mood. Then he hopped behind a piano, banged out of the first few notes of "Senorita," and puffed it right back up. This set off a firecracker string of hits, starting with "Suit & Tie," which saw the nimble, committed Timberlake jive solo with a Day-Glo microphone stand rigged to lean and rock with him, a fantastic sort of high-budget shout-out to the broom scene from Breakin'.
Borrowing one of Kanye West's most effective live signatures,Timberlake later gathered himself in front of an MPC drum machine, hit with two spotlights as he addressed the crowd. "This is off the dome! We in Philly, so I'm taking it back," he announced. Beanie Sigel? Teddy Pendergrass? Hall & Oates? Not quite: He tapped a button and triggered an a capella of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, chopping Will Smith's sing-songy bars into the cascading synths that open "My Love." They loved it.
After a tremendous, seat-shaking arena-rock rendition of "Cry Me a River," which saw the translucent projection banners billowing from ceiling cascade with fat drops of CGI rain, Timberlake slowed down the pace considerably, pouring out shots for his musicians ("We got a saying where I come from. Friends don't let friends drink alone") while acknowledging them, especially the prolific percussionist Brian Frasier-Moore, a Philly native.
Later, an acoustic-armed Timberlake perched with his crew around a mock campfire on the opposite end of the floor, paying more deference to his "not-so-backup singers" by hyping up a series of brief but impressive solo snippets from his vocalists, who covered Fleetwood Mac, Lauryn Hill, the Beatles and John Denver. The tonal shift also allowed Timberlake to slide into other new singles, including the folksy, solemn "Flannel" and "Say Something."
The latter hit — inspired by his experience with a Philadelphia magazine journalist — is one song I find weirdly emblematic of what is still Timberlake's most questionable move to date: idling by after his controversial 2004 Super Bowl halftime show with Janet Jackson, sidestepping criticism of his role in the stunt while his fellow superstar was essentially blacklisted from the music industry. (Timberlake was even invited back to sing again at Super Bowl LII, which you might have watched.)