Justin Timberlake at the House of Blues Chicago
By Mark Guarino
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new Jon Bon Jovi.
Justin Timberlake is just 25 but he is busy prepping a career bankrolled on his heartthrob status. No real revelation as the singer and actor entered the public eye as a Musketeer, moving up as one of the creampuff moppets of ‘N Sync.
But ever since former girlfriend Britney Spears completed her transformation into Tammy Faye Baker, it’s been evident that the era has passed and without much dignity at that. Timberlake is making the best of it, reinventing himself from a pin-up for teenage girls to a raunchy sex object for their fathers’ secretaries.
At the House of Blues Tuesday Timberlake continued what he started when he uncorked Janet Jackson’s breast on national television. This nine-city club tour is to build anticipation of a second solo album, “FutureSex/LoveSounds” (Jive), due for release in three weeks. As the title suggests, Timberlake’s mind is set to bump and grind, but unlike old school titans Michael Jackson and James Brown, his obvious touchstones, the midnight moves were about as nuanced as a National Geographic nature special.
Timberlake thrilled the mostly female audience (okay, only about 99.9 percent of the crowd) with X-rated hand gestures evoking — how do you say it? — provocative methods of intercourse. Entering wearing a fedora and a natty ensemble borrowed from the cast of “Guys and Dolls,” he ended the night stripped down to just the basics. Just like at a Bon Jovi concert, the approval was strong with squeal power.
The songs from Timberlake’s 2002 solo debut kept the night afloat. Reaching back to the playful R&B of the late 1970’s with songs like “Rock Your Body” and “Senorita,” Timberlake captured the casual cool of that era while gliding along the stage with seamless dance moves and charming vocal flutters.
The newer material is an obvious move to toughen up his sound. “I hope you like it, but if you don’t like it, well, (expletive) you,” he said. “What Comes Around Goes Around” incorporated Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” in a heavy funk pattern topped with a sinister guitar lead. “SexyBack,” his current single, was saved for last, a rudimentary synthesized vamp. Even “Like I Love You,” from the first album, was reconfigured, building to the opening guitar riffs of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That hurt.
The 90-minute show featured only 12 songs and little was fresh. Mostly concerned with hitting stripper cues, Timberlake did not take advantage of the 11-member band crammed onto the small club stage. This will work in the arenas he’ll undoubtedly return to this fall, but up close and personal, the holes were wide.