Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour has memorable moments to spare, but one of the smallest gestures made by the pop megastar might be the most telling. At the conclusion of “Suit and Tie,” about two hours and forty-five minutes from when the Anaheim stop began with dependable party starters “Pusha Love Girl” and “Rock Your Body,” Timberlake turned from his microphone stand and walked from the stage’s edge toward the center where his band and dancers—more than twenty people total—were stationed. But after a few steps, Timberlake quickly turned around and returned to the microphone stand, adjusting its position a minuscule amount and then resumed his retreat from front and center.
The 20/20 stage production is original and extravagant, but most arena shows these days are as well, and surely this is not the first stage to have retractable panels to raise and lower everything from band members to microphone stands, creating a seamless presentation that never sees a roadie or guitar tech distracting from the intricate choreography and musicianship. And, as is the case with this kind of stage functionality, hitting your mark is key. Still, how Timberlake, after this extended time of singing and dancing and telling jokes, with thousands of eyes watching his every movement, has the awareness to go back and move the mic stand to its proper location, sparing it from falling over when its portion of stage descends into the darkened recesses, is beyond me.
One detail amongst many over the course of 30+ other songs. The number is unfathomable, and extend to life-threatening bits of information that keep Team T-Lake from crushing fans or plummeting to their own death when part of the stage becomes mobile and shifts across the arena. And this is the second tour of the year with such a crazy scale from the actor and former boy-band star. On a physical and mental level, Justin Timberlake is placing himself in a bigger conversation than best of the year when he succeeds. Hell, Frank Sinatra was the first comparison that made the rounds earlier in the year and only becomes more true the longer it resonates.
Save the ten-minute intermission, Timberlake spent three hours in front of an audience, after doing the same set the previous night in L.A., with much of the action committed to memory in such a way that he didn’t seem plotted. Timberlake still interacted with the audience, led them through an off-the-cuff run through “California Love,” and never once delivered a catchphrase or joke that reeked of over-rehearsal. Many times in the bigger shows, an artist can lose that connection with the fans, but Timberlake manages to make an arena feel much smaller, a big-budget pop spectacle seem personal.
The tour’s crowning achievement comes, as mentioned, when part of the stage breaks off from the main section and raises above the audience, then rolls the length of the arena’s floor, all while Timberlake and dancers walk the moving catwalk in song and dance, no more than an bodies length from the adoring crowd. “Let the Groove Get In” becomes an unforgettable song with this moment, and the number concludes with the stage lowering back down to its new home at the other end of the building. Timberlake goes on to spend thirty minutes there, giving those with the cheap seats a prime viewing location for at least a portion of the show, and giving the whole room a thrill of having him roll by twice, as it is later repeated for a return to the main stage during “Take Back the Night.”
Loaded with covers, including “Human Nature” in a tribute to his obvious inspiration Michael Jackson and songs from other reference points Elvis Presley and Bel Biv DeVoe, and pulling close to equally from all his albums, though still ignoring his N’Sync days, Timberlake completes what might seem his biggest task in this tour, in that he makes the material from his disappointing second installment of the 20/20 Experience fold into the set. That said, the show really has two songs that musically are untouchable, the first set closer “Cry Me A River” and the night’s finale “Mirrors.” Both were huge, house-lights-on, enveloping performances, displaying the potential of huge songs given the maximal treatment. Only a day later does it sink in that with Timberlake’s successful film career and his hints that a move to country could be a possibility, plus the ever-present factor of just getting older, there will never be another opportunity to see him in this manner: being the best, at his best, down to the smallest detail.