Review: Janet Jackson gets crowds of all types dancing — A-list celebrities included
Mad traffic. Celebrity sightings. Mind melting bass. It’s all for you, Janet Jackson.
That was the response as Ms. Jackson returned to PNC Music Pavilion Friday midway through her Together Again Tour.
Just four days shy of her 57th birthday, Jackson appeared forever young as she ran through a career-spanning set. She wasn’t the only youthful A-lister at the concert though. Tom Cruise was reportedly in attendance, and a photo of him sitting in the VIP box seats is floating around on Twitter.
Tom Cruise at the Janet Concert @CelebsInCLT pic.twitter.com/5XNyqONnyu
— (@DarrellTheDon) May 13, 2023
Jackson, the band and four male dancers pivoted from one era to the next — from the empowering material of “Control” to the sexy grown-up grooves of her `90s albums “Janet” and “The Velvet Rope.” Love songs, dance songs and pop songs all swirled together in a stream of medleys that sometimes only allowed for a verse and chorus — of “Come Back To Me” and “Let’s Wait A While” for instance — or in “Black Cat’s” case, a blip between closers — “Scream” and “Rhythm Nation.” Granted – like Prince who often wedged hits into his shows via medleys — Jackson has a lot of ground to cover.
Any problems with Friday’s show weren’t about Jackson’s performance. They were logistical and technical.
Traffic was horrendous as cars from every direction were funneled into three lanes. It’s safe to say lots of fans missed Ludacris’ opening set. Cars were still waiting to turn onto Pavilion Boulevard when his set ended. Some gave up and parked at apartment complexes or the nearby Walmart, hurrying the rest of the way to the venue on foot.
A parking attendant suggested the backup was caused by fans arriving late to the show because of work, but it seemed worse than most of the shows I’ve seen there over the past 30 years.
When Jackson emerged to strains of “Damita Jo” at 8:45 p.m., there were still rows of red brake lights lining the main road in both directions.
The music emanating from the stage to the parking area was louder, clearer and boomier than typical for outside the venue. When we reached our seats during “Feedback,” I realized why. Screaming fans alone were enough to make me reach for earplugs (which I rarely use). The mix twenty rows back from the stage was largely bass and vocals. But it actually sounded better without earplugs.
In gold sequins from neck to her metallic gold boots with a purple bow tied around her waist, Jackson started the show with a handful of songs from her 2008’s “Discipline” (“Feedback” and “So Much Betta”) and 2015’s “Unbreakable” (“No Sleeep”) before diving into hits from 1993’s “Janet.”
It was hard to focus on the songs while constantly adjusting my earplugs trying to avoid punishing low end. So, as Jackson closed out the first portion of her set with “That’s the Way Love Goes,” I headed for the lawn.
The hillside was completely packed. A train of late-comers trudged along the margins searching for somewhere to plant themselves — having already missed a big chunk of the show. The sound was still appropriately loud, but certainly more defined from the cheap seats.
Looking at the line of speakers hanging from the top of the stage, my husband, a former live sound engineer, suggested the show may have been designed for indoor venues. And her schedule does include several arenas, especially outside of the South.
For the second part of the set, Jackson donned a sequined black and white turtleneck and wide black pants as she jammed through early hits “Nasty,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “The Pleasure Principal” and “When I Think of You.”
A few bars of “Diamonds,” the 1987 Herb Alpert hit on which she provided guest vocals, was a pleasant surprise.
A ripple ran through the crowd at the first notes of “Control,” which took on a funky vibe. That momentum continued through a string of love songs.
The crowd sang much of “Again” before Jackson disappeared for a costume change after “I Get Lonely.”
Like Stevie Wonder or her brother, Michael, Jackson’s appeal spans decades, gender and race. Everyone knows the songs. Even the vendors were dancing in their booths. It was interesting to see the varied responses to material from different eras or sub-genres through different pockets on the lawn. While her ‘80s hits appealed to a broad swath, her slow, sensual songs had some ladies singing along and filming themselves with the stage as a backdrop. Content creators, maybe?
The third act found Janet in a hot pink pants suit with a plaid sequined belt and collar turning up the fun with “Doesn’t Really Matter” and “All For You” before segueing into a run of covers (Blackstreet, Busta Rhymes) where she seemed most at ease dancing, jumping, twirling her hip-length ponytail, and simply enjoying herself to the DJ’s tracks.
An hour and 15 minutes into the show and three costume changes later, Jackson kicked off the closing segment with the politically and socially charged “The Knowledge” in a bedazzled black T-shirt and pants.
“Miss You Much” and “Love Will Never Do” were highlights, with Jackson obviously singing live despite hopping through the familiar dances from the videos. Even if she were lip-syncing, she can’t fake those moves.
“Scream” enjoyed a huge pop from the crowd as the video of she and Michael played on screen. It was followed by an extended intro for “Rhythm Nation,” which ended the main set.
Despite the heavy traffic and sound issues, everyone seemed under her spell — from City Councilman Braxton Winston, a crew member and production cameraman who said on Facebook he filmed the show for his day job to my friend, Amy, who was seated in the back section of seats to a smiling Cruise.
Few artists have such widespread regard in this day of internet stars and niche acts. Jackson is still an old-school star who shows few signs of slowing down.