The highlight of the first show of Janet Jackson's North American tour Wednesday night was not the tightly-produced dance numbers, the many costume changes, not even the interminable (and hot) S&M scene, involving a lucky audience member.
The most memorable moment of the Vancouver show came almost halfway through, when Jackson, dressed in a gold and black glam hip hop-inspired track suit (and one gold glove), stopped on the catwalk after her hit Together Again, listened to the crowd roar its approval, and became emotional – really emotional. We're talking tears.
“Thank you,” she said – seeming to really mean it, as she waved her hands, begging the audience to stop.
It was one of the rare genuine moments in the highly-produced, two-hour-and-20-minute-long show, and it marked the point where Jackson seemed to loosen up, get comfortable, and enjoy herself.
And she had every reason to enjoy herself. At 42, she of the infamous Superbowl wardrobe malfunction proved Wednesday night that she has still got it – big time – at least as a performer. She can move like she did back in her Rhythm Nation 1814 days – almost 20 years ago now – and she never seemed to wane, even as the clock ticked past 10:30 pm, and the crowd (mostly younger – much – than Jackson) seemed to tire of standing on its feet.
The singing is another matter. Too much of the vocal performance was pre-recorded and played back as Jackson either sang along or added the odd “come on!” or “woo!” as she danced around. The numbers she actually sang right through – such as Let's Wait Awhile – were a bit bumpy at times and she seemed to be struggling a tad as she held her hand up to her ear in an effort to catch the right notes.
But the crowd was forgiving – and who wouldn't be when presented with a show like this?
It started off powerfully. After hitting the stage with a splashy entrance through rolling fog and two giant glittery J's, Jackson cycled through three of her biggest hits – Control, What Have You Done For Me Lately and Feedback, the dance club-friendly single from her current release, Discipline. Wow.
Then there was the spectacle of it all: nine costumes (ranging from a red ball gown to a sexy sailor get-up), nine spectacular dancers, and a stage show that included video projections, dramatic lighting, and pyrotechnics.
But the sparks really flew toward the end of the show when Jackson, dressed in her S&M best, walked the catwalk with her two female dancers, looking for a fan to have a little fun with. They brought him on stage, installed him in a harness and Jackson simulated having her way with him.
The crowd loved it, but all I could think of was Jackson's contention during a phone-in press conference last week that she hoped parents and kids would come to her show together, and make it a multi-generational outing. This was not an act you want your child to see – and not something you want to experience with a parent in tow either.
The simulated, er, lovemaking aside, an intimate show this wasn't. But it was satisfying: a fun, glitzy choreographed experience worthy of a woman who's been in show business longer than most of the people in the audience have been alive. Bravo.