At GM Place on Wednesday, September 10
Giving paying customers their hard-earned money’s worth is all fine and noble, but there’s an argument to be made for the power of restraint. Janet Jackson might want to take note of that. Based on her set at GM Place on Wednesday, the 42-year-old icon has never heard the old-showbiz adage about always leaving the adoring rabble wanting more. By the time the house lights finally came up, Vancouver had been through a marathon that clocked in at just under two-and-a-half hours. Nothing—not even the fevered dry humping in the middle of “Discipline” or the New Year’s-in-’Nam pyrotechnics at night’s end—obscured the fact that chunks of the show dragged worse than the unabridged version of Moby Dick.
Part of the problem was that Jackson is no longer the lean, mean dancing machine she was in her heyday. As Straight photographer Rebecca Blissett quipped, the singer arrived on-stage looking like the star of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderthighs. Yes, as her skin-tight gold lamé body suit showed, baby’s got enough back these days to get Sir Mix-a-Lot’s anaconda absolutely begging for a piece of that bubble.
Three songs in, Jackson was sweating like she’d just run the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon while wrapped in a Berber carpet. Huffing and puffing aside, the bigger problem was pacing. The second-most-famous member of the Jackson clan started strong, hitting the audience with the 1-2-3 dance-pop punch of “The Pleasure Principle”, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”, and “Control”. Who gives a shit that she intially appeared Sominexed-to-the-tits, and that she seemed to be going the Milli Vanilli route with the vocals, because there was enough glitzy eye candy to compensate for that. Flashpots detonated, fog rolled through the Garage, and a gaggle of ever-enthusiastic backup dancers came on like they were raised on Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Even though too many costume changes gave things a disjointed feel, there were times when it didn’t matter that Jackson was backstage more often than Cher with a scorching bladder infection. An early highlight had the entire crew dressed up as sailors straight out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, for the new-wave-tinted funk of “Alright” and “Miss You Much”.
That good will was torpedoed, however, with the second costume change, when Jackson’s red-sequinned evening gown at least made everyone forget her car-crash of an opening outfit. Musically, though, if you’re going to take things down six notches, you don’t do it close to the top. If Jackson was looking to sap all energy out of the room, she couldn’t have done better than an extended set of ballads that reached its low point with “Come Back to Me”, a lifeless bit of triple-syruped treacle that made Celine Dion sound like Brody Dalle with a ball-bustin’ case of PMS.
From that point on, the show became an endurance test for all but the most hard-core of fans. And it didn’t help that Jackson can’t really sing; as much as that’s a problem on record, it was inescapable live during muddy messes like “Nasty”.
The reward for the marathon? That would have been “Discipline”, where—with her backup dancers looking like the PumpJack on Saturday night—a bondage-gear-clad Jackson hauled a plant from the audience, chained him up, and, after a bit if simulated fellatio, proceeded to ride him like Willie Shoemaker on Seabiscuit.
If she’d boiled such moments down to an hour-and-a-half, Jackson would have given Vancouver something more to remember than the junk in her trunk.