May 23 at Budweiser Stage, Toronto
What has she done for you lately?
If her name is Janet Jackson, there was the two-hour, 37-song, career-spanning extravaganza that kicked off the summer concert season at Budweiser Stage on Tuesday night, where the Gary, Indiana-born superstar exercised supreme control of her talents and her faithful fans repeatedly lost it.
Hard to believe that for the “Together Again” tour — where she pulled a Neil Young and performed the theme song three times over the evening, including the encore — the divine Ms. Jackson is celebrating her 50th year in the spotlight, which considering she’s 57 is no mean feat.
Part of the hit-making Jackson Family legacy that includes the Jackson 5 and, of course, her late brother Michael, who appeared with her onscreen via their duet video “Scream,” Janet pulled out all the stops with a visual and aural bombardment that kept the crowd of over 16,000 — aged eight to 80 — on their feet from the moment the lights dimmed.
Following an introductory video subtitled “50 Years of Me” that revealed a glamorous celebrity life of family, fashion, fame and frolic, Jackson appeared in a purple hooded robe and introduced herself to the masses via “Damita Jo,” the title track from her 2004 effort, before doffing the robe to reveal a gold lamé bodysuit with a purple bow belt, and being joined by four male dancers for the first rendition of “Together Again.”
Also backed by a methodical five-piece band, pre-recorded harmonies, four video screens and a two-tiered hydraulic stage, Jackson, occasionally stroking her waist-long ponytail, kept the funk/pop momentum going with a medley of memories that included a full breast grope during “Feedback” from one of her dancers; another dip into her “Discipline” album with a few minutes of “So Much Betta,” a detour into a healthy segment of “If,” followed by a portion of “No Sleeep”; a segment of “Got ’Til It’s Gone” before really slowing it down for the romantic ballad “That’s The Way Love Goes,” culminating the first act of the concert with “Enjoy” as she disappeared backstage for the second of four costume changes.
That was a preview of things to come, as Jackson revealed her many personas ranging from hopeless romantic and sexually suggestive vixen to social advocate and serious feminist.
If you’re a Janet Jackson fan, you were probably attending the show for two reasons: the music and the precise choreography that helped catapult her into the stratosphere.
Regarding the latter, Jackson’s choreography for the majority of the evening wasn’t as strenuous as past tours, consisting of a lot more upper body movement than the bordering-on-militaristic meticulousness of such influential albums as “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814.”
There were occasional flashes of the old Janet — especially during the “Rhythm Nation” concert concluder — but, for the most part, she left the heavy lifting to her four core menfolk: a somewhat economical entourage for the woman who often carries a small armada of hoofers with her on tour.
A more serious point — and admittedly, this reviewer sitting in Section 203 could have been experiencing one of the venue’s sonic dead spots — is that the sound was horribly loud and distorted such that the band, especially the bass player, drowned out the superstar to the point of being indecipherable.
The bass pretty much sounded like a thud through the majority of the evening.
If you knew Jackson’s songs by heart or were captured by the exhilaration of sharing rare proximity with the superstar, perhaps the flaws became less detectable. But for many songs in the first half of the show, her voice was simply buried by the band.
On the rare occasion Jackson’s vocals broke through, she sounded in fine form and the sound imbalance seemed to be somewhat handled by the third chapter of her four-act set.
Of course, Jackson has a considerable legacy of wall-to-wall hits, but that didn’t stop her from shoehorning in some rarities. She once recorded “Diamonds” for Herb Alpert; “Girlfriend/Boyfriend” with Blackstreet and a duet with Luther Vandross: whether it was for a few bars or a few minutes, they all made it into the mix.
The outfits Jackson wore for the concert were all conservative, including a black and white gown to start off “What Have You Done For Me Lately” that was detached to reveal a smart pantsuit; a rather questionable red and plaid ensemble that didn’t quite mesh and perhaps the crowd’s favourite: a throwback to the T-shirt and jeans of the “Rhythm Nation” era, which included a generous run of songs from that album to finish the main body of the show on an emotional, nostalgic high.
In short, Janet Jackson delivered the goods for the dedicated flock that has steadfastly supported her for half a century and is no doubt salivating over the prospect of her artistic output for the next five decades.
And if the “Together Again” tour is, as rumoured, the swan song of her concert trek, then she fully embodied the definition of “The Pleasure Principle” with her dynamic performance.
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