A show of this magnitude is almost impossible to review. To bring together superstars who are famous on such an epic scale is unprecedented. It’s not surprising that they’re only playing 12 dates together-I can’t even imagine what the cost is to put on such an enterprise-though based on the ticket prices they certainly had no problem recouping that cash. We got there an hour before the show was supposed to start, and I was shocked how empty the stadium was. It wasn’t until well after the listed start time that the seats started to fill up.
The crowd was pretty mixed-there were old white people, young white people, both male and female. We were stuck behind a 600 pound woman who came to party, and next to a 70 year old woman who looked like a stereotypical cartoon witch (her son bought her a ticket, but not next to him and his wife). There was also a group of three or four girls that were somewhere between 13-15 years old-we’ll talk more about them later…
8:00 was the start time according to the ticket, and no opener was listed. So, when a DJ started playing I figured he was just a hype guy and he’d play the lead into “Izzo” or something and then Jay Z would come out. No. Not the case at all. This DJ played for over an hour. His name is DJ Cassidy, and I swear I’ve been to people’s second weddings that had DJ’s better than this doofus. A good subtitle for this show review would be: The Perfect Show That Almost Wasn’t. Cassidy is one of those DJ’s who feels the need to inject himself into the songs for some reason. Like, if he was playing Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” and that part came on where they say “It takes two to make a thing go right, it takes two to make it out of sight,” his version would be “It takes two to make a thing go right, DJ Cassidy can make it out of sight.” And he did those inserts through every song. I thought Kari was going to go up to the stage and kick him in the face, but it didn’t come to that.
I’ve been talking about this concert constantly for the past couple months-if you follow me on twitter or like the Facebook page you are probably painfully aware of this. It’s been such a point of focus for me that I was sure I would be disappointed once I was finally there in the moment. A funny thing happened once JT and Jigga finally came out on stage, though. It was everything I thought it would be and so much more.
The stage set is red-like, RED red. Everything red. I wasn’t sure what the point of this was since a lot of the promotional stuff for both performers has been black and white. Once the show started it was clear that the red stage was serving a purpose-one of the greatest light shows ever assembled. Imagine if David Fincher and Michael Bay combined the best of both of their perspectives, and that would give you a good idea of what was going on. There were explosions on screen timed out to the music, at one point there was a giant snake going around the whole place-just insane stuff. Mind-blowing, really. Usually when I see a big show I think they wasted a lot of money on lights that add nothing to the concert, but this was 100% well done.
Justin Timberlake came out first, stage right in front of one of the enormous screens. Screams from the crowd almost hid the fact that seconds later Jay Z emerged on the other side. The two icons enjoyed a moment of adulation before Justin launched into the opening of “Holy Grail.” It was clear from the very first song that these guys came to party. By the time Jay got to the Nirvana section of the song, the whole crowd was singing along and dancing. We had no idea we were in for the night of our lives.
It’s easy to forget, I think, just how many hits these two have made. There was a twenty minute blur following “Holy Grail” where they bounced back and forth and I swear every song they did was a platinum single. You name your favorite song by either one, and I’m willing to bet they played it. They even threw in a couple covers-The Jackson 5 , Kendrick Lamar, and I guess you could even count Watch The Throne.
The highlights came early and often, but I’ll try to just pick a few to talk about here. The first came a couple songs after “Holy Grail” when Justin did a little bit of “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. This segued into “Izzo” perfectly, and it’s long been my favorite Jay Z song. That transitioned to “Excuse Me Miss,” which ended a three-song block of Jigga, which is kind of the way the night went.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Justin Timberlake show without “Senorita,” and he sat down at the keyboard for the first time on this. Both of these guys are big on crowd interaction, and JT was all smiles when he said “Come on, Chicago. Act like you know this” as he led the guys in “It feels like somethin’s heatin up, can I leave with you” and the ladies with “I don’t know what I’m thinkin bout, really leavin with you.” It was a great moment of the crowd really getting into the groove-more so that on Jay Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U” where a good part of the crowd screamed “Gimme that sweet that nasty that gushy stuff.”
Maybe the most impressive mashup was Justin’s “Tunnel Vision” which ended about a quarter of the way through and turned into Hova’s “Jigga What? Jigga Who?” and finally into “U Don’t Know.” That was 9 minutes of perfection, and I caught almost all of it on video for you:
As the night went on, the individual sections got bigger. Instead of two or three songs by each performer there would be four of five. This was my favorite part of the night-as much as I love Jay Z, I was there to see Justin Timberlake. So when he knocked out a seven-song set in the middle of this huge extravaganza, it was magic. He started with “Pusher Love Girl,” which was maybe his best vocal performance of the night and really got the crowd going with the “J-J-J-J-Junkie for your love” bit. Then he did “Summer Love” and “LoveStoned” back to back. He sat down at the piano and told a story about getting off the plane at the airport and seeing a shirt that said “Chicago Is For Lovers.” Then he launched into a sweet version of “Until The End Of Time” that included a massive audience sing-a-long. By the end of that one he was back up and ready to go with “Cry Me A River,” and I think this was the point where the audience had fully given themselves over to the vibe of the evening. After that we got “Take Back The Night,” which is a lot better live than it is on a computer. He finished it off with “Futuresex/Lovesound” and then Jay Z came out and did “Niggas In Paris” before going back to bouncing back and forth between the two.
The last highlight I’ll mention was something that came completely out of nowhere. If you’ve been following Jay Z at all, you know that he’s been attending get togethers to protest the Zimmerman verdict along with Beyonce and Al Sharpton. They’ve been dedicating the song “Forever Young/Young Forever” to Trayvon Martin at each show so far. It started off with Jay Z talking about how we need to stop the violence. He said, “Chicago, you need to cut it out.” Then he asked everyone to get their phones out and light up the sky. Of course I didn’t because it’s a stupid thing to do. But as the song was going and I looked around and saw all the lights in the stadium, it was oddly affecting. The only thing I could think of to compare it to is if you’ve seen the movie Milk, or the documentary about the life of Harvey Milk. There’s a clip they show in both, I think, of the candlelight vigil in his memory, and it just goes on for miles through the streets of San Francisco. Last night in that stadium I felt the same way I did when I saw that shot for the first time-overwhelmed with sorrow and hope at the same time.
Let’s not end there, though. It was such a fun night up until that point, so let’s end on something fun. So earlier I mentioned the tween girls that ended up right in front of us and I wanted to go back to that because they were funny and disturbing at the same time. Now, these seats they had were not cheap. It would have taken a lot of babysitting or allowance to afford these on their own. So they did what any smart kid would do, ask a parent to go. So these kids were their with their moms, or more likely step moms, who paid a handsome amount to bond with their kids. Naturally the kids all joined up together, forcing the older ladies-still probably the same age as Kari and I, to sit together on the side. Once the concert started these girls started trying to twerk and make their booties clap and I’m pretty sure one of them was doing a color guard routine at one point. The 70 year old woman next to us said she wanted to bitchslap them. Kari wasn’t much nicer about them. It was less funny the longer it went on. Luckily halfway through the concert they were so tired from grinding the air that they had to settle down.
For all my expectations going into this show, I was blown away by how amazing it was. I’ve seen a lot of great concerts in my life, and this was one of the best. The band that Justin put together, The Tennessee Kids, rivals The Roots and The New Power Revolution as the best backing band in history. I only have one complaint, and it’s a small one: during one song-can’t remember which-Justin was breaking it down and he used a line from “New Slaves.” Great song, don’t get me wrong, but hearing him do it was completely unnecessary. Other than that one thing, it was brilliance from beginning to end.
Rock Your Body
I Just Wanna Love U
I Want You Back
Excuse Me Miss
On to the Next One
Like I Love You
Jigga What, Jigga Who
U Don’t Know
Public Service Announcement
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Heart of the City
Pusher Love Girl
Until the End of Time
Cry Me a River
Take Back the Night
Niggas in Paris
What Goes Around… Comes Around
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
New York New York / Empire State of Mind
Run This Town
Suit & Tie