“I hope you came to dance tonight, New York,” said Justin Timberlake at the Times Union Center on Saturday night during “Midnight Summer Jam,” the second song of his nearly sold-out performance.
As he strolled down the serpentine-shaped catwalk that wound from one side of the arena to the other — connecting stages at each end — Timberlake was trailed by a six-piece troupe of spirited dancers whose intense gyrations and well-choreographed moves brought much of the oomph to the night.
Timberlake himself can seem a bit low-energy at times, but he knows how to surround himself with talented performers. His ensemble of dancers, backup singers and musicians is bolstered by a horn section and stellar guitarist Mike Scott, who used to play in Prince’s New Power Generation. Known as the Tennessee Kids, the group always brings a great deal of the verve.
With all that firepower behind him, Timberlake can get away with shaking a relatively minor bit of booty. When he turned around and shook his rump after “LoveStoned,” the crowd roared. Female fans especially were out in force, some wearing “Woman of the Woods” t-shirts, a play on JT’s current tour and album, “Man of the Woods.”
He’s also got a large staple of dance hits to draw from by now. But “SexyBack,” one of his best dancefloor bombs, fell flat, with Timberlake leaving most of the lyrics to the audience, who couldn’t carry enough volume to propel the tune. Timberlake’s other big collaboration with hip-hop producer Timbaland, “My Love,” was better, with JT plunking a synth machine to kick off the rock-techno ballad’s opening lines and staccato beat.
Timberlake and his three male dancers donned blazers for “Suit and Tie,” kicked off with explosive percussion from his two drummers, before lasers shot down from a circular rig in the center of the arena to enclose the singer in a hexagonal prison.
In keeping with the occasional rustic “Man of the Woods” theme, bare trees that sprouted from one end of the stage were lit up purple for “Cry Me A River,” Timberlake’s Britney Spears inspired ballad that remains one of his best tunes. “Mirrors” was another highlight, as a giant circular screen descended from the ceiling and enveloped the singer with multiple reflections of himself.
Wearing woodsy clothes from his “Fresh Leaves” collaboration with Levi’s, Timberlake remerged for an acoustic interlude designed to look like a campfire singalong. The fire-pit fest included “Until the End of Time” and guest turns from Timberland’s backup vocalists on snippets of covers, including “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac), “Ex-Factor” (Lauryn Hill), “Come Together” (“The Beatles”), and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (John Denver).
The final portion of the set found Timberlake working the catwalk again with dancers and his plugged-in band on a closing blast that included “Say Something,” “Summer Love,” “Rock Your Body” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
Opener Francesco Yates from Toronto had a big hit several years ago when “Sugar” by German DJ Robin Schulz featured his vocals (although the song was just a total redo of a previous song, Baby Bash’s “Suga Suga”). Despite that recent success, his set seemed surprisingly amateurish. Yates just tried too hard for pop-star swagger — from the forced dance moves to the strained falsetto and the over-indebtedness to Prince and Michael Jackson.