At Rogers Arena on Thursday, January 16
"We ought to come here more often," Justin Timberlake commented about halfway through his three-hour marathon of a performance at a packed Rogers Arena. He was jokingly referring to the fact that his prior Vancouver appearance, on his summer tour with Jay Z, took place a mere six months ago.
"If I come back, will all y'all come back?" Timberlake asked. Judging by the screams of delight, the crowd's answer was a unanimous yes.
It's no mystery as to why Vancouverites have such a voracious appetite for the onetime 'N Sync star, since this show was an eye-popping spectacle of epic proportions. One entire end of the arena was taken up by a geometric, honeycomb-shaped video screen, which extended overhead and formed a roof above the sprawling stage. The screen came to life during the night's introductory swells of ambient noise, which gave way to the ascendant Old Hollywood orchestrations of "Pusher Love Girl."
The man of the hour appeared suddenly, as if from nowhere, materializing at the top of the two-tier stage to deliver the opening lines. As the soulful arrangement swelled, his massive backing band rose from out of the floor. Dubbed the Tennessee Kids, the ensemble included two drummers, four backup singers, and a horn section, among others.
The Memphis-born Timberlake wore a white suit jacket and a bow tie with his hair greased back, while the rest of the musicians looked similarly dapper in their formal attire. They were joined for most of the evening by a troupe of six backup dancers, who emerged to join the frontman in an intricately choreographed routine during the funky disco pulse of "Rock Your Body."
The performance was split into two sets, and these highlighted a selection of cuts from last year's The 20/20 Experience and its 2 of 2 companion piece, in addition to offering an overview of some of JT's finest back catalogue cuts. He played a white grand piano during the mega-ballad "Until the End of Time", and the venomously slinky "Cry Me a River" capped off the first half with a bombastic crescendo of blaring horns and wailing guitar solos.
Timberlake could have ended there and most folks would have probably been satisfied, but we weren't even halfway through the show. Following a 10-minute break, he returned to the stage, having changed into an all-black suit. Soon after, he quipped, "I'm 32, I need the break. Fuck you, we can do the intermission if I want."
Despite this moment of sassiness, he was clearly delighted with the audience's enthusiasm, saying, "We started this tour in November. This is, by a mile, the craziest crowd I've seen." Maybe he says that in every city, but he certainly appeared sincere. (Then again, he has a successful Hollywood film career, so it's difficult to be sure when he's being earnest.)
The most mind-blowing moment came during the worldbeat-tinged "Let the Groove Get In", when the walkway at the front of the stage rose 15 or so feet into the air and, through a startling feat of engineering, moved slowly forward across the length of the floor. This took the ex-Mouseketeer and his backup vocalists on a dizzying journey over the fans' heads to the opposite side of the venue.
Once there, Timberlake and company descended to play a few comparatively stripped down numbers on a raised platform while surrounded by fans, who were understandably shrieking and going ballistic. This interlude included covers of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature", plus a folksy twist on "What Goes Around... Comes Around" that gave the multitalented singer a chance to show off his fingerpicking skills on acoustic guitar.
After lifting the energy with the lusty "Cabaret," he climbed aboard his incredible moving walkway and headed back to the front while singing "Take Back the Night"; at one point during this return journey, he sat perched at one end of the platform, his feet dangling scarcely 10 feet from my head.
After this insane display, the last few tunes seemed fairly tame by comparison—in terms of sheer grandeur, dance choreography and large video screens are no match for a travelling walkway. That being said, "Suit & Tie" was a standout fan favourite. At the end of the song, the superstar took a bow as the lights went down, but he didn't even bother exiting the stage before saying that he wasn't ready to go home and launching into his encore.
The thumping "SexyBack" inspired some of the loudest cheers of the night, and Timberlake then finished with his epic love anthem "Mirrors". During this finale, he spent some time dancing without a microphone, allowing his backup vocals and the audience to take the lead.
As always, this was impeccably rehearsed and meticulously executed, without a step out of place. By the end of it all, I found myself half hoping that Timberlake would stumble or flub a note, just to prove that he was human. On this evening, there was no such luck.