A Justin Timberlake fan displayed inappropriate behavior Tuesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. During the "SexyBack" singer's new arena show, which hits Staples Center next week, she tossed a cowboy hat onstage. Timberlake, grooving and popping his way through his 2003 hit "Rock Your Body," glanced sideways at the chapeau -- and kept on dancing. Bono or Kelly Clarkson or even Timberlake's pal Timbaland might have donned the hat, to the screaming delight of fans. But Timberlake is not that kind of pop star.
The most supremely confident entertainer of his generation, Timberlake reaffirmed his focus with this musical decathlon. It's all about gesture: Timberlake's perfect vocabulary of shrugs, hip shakes and sneaky turns form a language of passion and pleasure that parallels music's own transcendent expressiveness. Dressed in a Broadway hoofer's unstuffy suit and loose tie, he sang beautifully throughout Tuesday's very long show, and played guitar and keyboards. But mostly, he danced. And his body's eloquence was boundless.
After a set by Pink in which the gutsy singer displayed some high-flying Cirque du Soleil-style moves of her own, Timberlake, surrounded by his band and a loose troupe of dancers, offered a quick hello and set forth into perpetual motion. Alone onstage during "My Love," he moved his arms and head rhythmically, creating a physical image of the human beatbox sounds he loves to make; then he jerked his torso as if he were a turntable manipulated by a scratching DJ. Instead of dancing just to bump up the energy of his show or to display his hot physique, he aligns dance and music so closely that they become a full-body art.
Like the tap dancers and soft-shoe masters he emulates, Timberlake feels music deep in his limbs: seeing him perform most of the tracks from the nervy 2006 album "FutureSex / LoveSounds" in ever-shifting tableaux of dancers (and dancing band members) reinforced how much these rhythmically dense, incantatory songs are born from Timberlake's impulse to move.
For him, emotion is physical first, then it emanates to his voice, and he approaches all aspects of his art with economy and great care. It's no coincidence that he's obsessed with the percussive vocal technique of beatboxing. Even when playing keyboards, which he often did, Timberlake swayed and tapped the keys with a light, percussive touch that propelled his singing.
A circular stage with several trapdoors and a revolving center kept Timberlake circulating even when he sat down to play or stood still to focus on a ballad. Laser lights shot into the crowd; rising and falling scrims captured video images, sometimes enclosing Timberlake and his band entirely so they seemed to be projections themselves. (A screen orchestra "accompanied" Timberlake on one song; during another, he taped himself with a tiny handheld camera, the scrims filling with his huge, distorted mug.) The constant motion was in startling contrast to the usual tired skits and costume changes of arena pop. Sometimes a plot line would surface, as when two showgirls teased Timberlake while he sang "Damn Girl," but the main focus -- grace, both musical and corporeal -- always returned.
For all of its star's suppleness, the show had some flab. Timbaland, the production mastermind behind Timberlake's best music, made some cameos and helmed a bumping DJ set, but it lasted too long. Following it with a subdued medley of older hits, Timberlake dampened the mood. Only the undeniable "Cry Me a River" resuscitated the evening.
Timberlake could refine these excesses, or he might find that audiences like the overkill. In Anaheim, the fans turned a sterile arena into a nightclub, showing off their own best gestures. They weren't quite up to Timberlake's level, but a few could really shake their hips.
Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.
When: 8 p.m., Tuesday
Price: $56 to $97.50
Contact: (213) 742-7340