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Concert Reviews:
Justin Timberlake sets the Woods on fire at Little Caesars

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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DETROIT -- The happy people in the metro area Monday night, April 2, were at Little Caesars Arena.

And they weren’t all Villanova fans.

While the University of Michigan was being pounded in the NCAA men’s basketball finals, Justin Timberlake and his Tennessee Kids were pounding out hits -- a full two hours of ‘em (his own, no *NSYNC) in a buoyant exposition of song, dance and memorable special effects. If Bruno Mars has staked a claim as pop music’s top showman during the three years or so Timberlake has been off the road, this year’s Super Bowl halftime star is back to make his own bid for that crown.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a production that makes full use of an arena in as complete a way as Timberlake is doing with his Man of the Woods Tour, named after his latest album. With staging that ran the full length of the nearly sold-out venue, Following a half-hour opening set by his proteges the Shadowboxers, Timberlake and company -- a 15-piece band and six dancers -- were in constant motion throughout the night, playing to every feasible direction of Little Caesars and even jumping into one of the VIP pits (clearly the one with the highest ticket price) for some up-close-and-personal dancing during “Rock Your Body.”

Overhead scrims displayed both live projections and prepared footage, accented by were more lasers than in a Star Wars film. Keeping with the Woods part of the theme, trees lined the lengthy ramp while foliage sprouted from the farthest reaches of the stage -- right next to where Timberlake and his four backup singers sat around a campfire at one point, singing acoustic versions of both his songs and a covers medley that included Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” the Beatles’ “Come Together” and John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

The whole affair was tightly choreographed to appear precision at times, loose and improvisational at others. Timberlake and company were best when they were at their funkiest, executing ebullient group dances to remix-style renditions of the opening “Filthy,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “LoveStoned,” “SexyBack,” “Suit & Tie” and more, while Timberlake worked a sampler to mash up his “My Love” with Eminem’s “Forget About Dre” -- just before an epic rendering of “Cry Me A River.”

There were strong purely musical moments, too, including a gospel-tinged “Mirrors” -- for which Timberlake, who sported five different looks during the show, hawked one of his own tour T-shirts -- and a tight pairing of “What Goes Around...Comes Around” and “Say Something.” “Drink You Good” found he and the Kids sharing shots before Timberlake spotted a fan sign asking him to announce her pregnancy (due date Nov. 1) to her family -- and the arena.

The campfire segment did meander a bit too long and a muddy mix, the product of too much sheer sound coming from the Kids, dogged much of the show, but those were generally eclipsed by the show’s myriad virtues. A breathless six-song closing medley led to the inevitable “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” a joyous romp that even had Little Caesars staff dancing and clapping in the concourse and erased any pain anyone might have been feeling from the basketball game.

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